Facing the humiliation of social exclusion after losing a loved one, Sebastián Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman is a heartbreaking portrait of loneliness.
More Than A Womanby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Four years after his Silver Bear winning Gloria, Sebastián Lelio returns with another portrait of a patient woman Una Mujer Fantástica. There’s perhaps none more put upon than Marina (Daniela Vega), a transsexual who – after his much older partner Orlando (Francisco Reyes) dies of an aneurysm – is forced to suffer humiliating physical exams by the police, and is robbed by his ex-wife Sonia and son of her dog and car and thrown out of his apartment. Much like the sequence in which Marina attempts to walk almost horizontal against the wind, dust and rubbish flying against her face, she’s repeatedly humiliated, forbidden to attend Orlando’s funeral and abducted by his son’s friends when she refuses to comply and attends the funeral anyway.
It’s a dignified performance from Daniela Vega. But accused by Sonia of being a “chimera”, neither man nor woman, Una Mujer Fantástica seems to suffer from the same opinion. An empty sauna locker leads nowhere except to allow the film’s protagonist to cross from one gender to the other – with the simple slip of a towel. Like the kissing men in the back room of a gay club, Marina’s sellotaped face or her tinselled dance routine, this fantastic woman remains a fairground attraction, even at one point caught in a wobbly mirror. The point, perhaps, is a moment of self-reflection. But Marina’s is not an identity in flux. And while the camera refrains from ogling its subject, Marina remains a quixotic and exotic sphinx, moving like a woman while naked like a man.
It’s another beautiful portrait of another enchanting woman, but Lelio seems somewhat at sea here, oversinging her praises with its unequivocal title and its unsubtle Natural Woman soundtrack. Quietly respectful, but lacking much in the way of insight, Lelio’s Una Mujer Fantástica is a welcome Latin-American addition to the trans trend, but doesn’t manage to ever quite get under its protagonist’s skin.
A Fantastic Woman premiered at the 67th Berlin Film Festival and screens as the BFI Flare Special Presentation at the 61st BFI London Film Festival on 6 and 10 October 2017.