CREDIT: Sony Pictures Classics

This review was originally posted on News Cult in January 2018.

Starring: Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco, Aline Küppenheim, Amparo Noguera, Nicolás Saavedra

Director: Sebastián Lelio

Running Time: 104 Minutes

Rating: R for Nudity Borne of Passion and Invasive Procedure, and Prejudicial Assault/Harassment

Release Date: February 2, 2018 (Limited)

A lot of the discussion around films and TV shows about underrepresented communities focuses on the value of those people being given a voice. And while that discussion is important, I fear that it has given subpar storytelling a pass or promoted the merely decent to excellence. But A Fantastic Woman (an Oscar nominee for Foreign Language Film), about Marina (Daniela Vega), a trans Chilean woman, and the prejudice she faces in her daily life, is the rare example in which the act of giving the voiceless a voice is baked so seamlessly into the narrative. It is possible that it resonates so much with me because its experience is so far outside my purview (I do not have many close trans friends, I do not know Chile or its people very well) that it feels so revelatory where for others it might seem matter-of-fact. But regardless of familiarity or lack thereof, Fantastic Woman registers as successfully as it does because Marina’s story is so intrinsically about her fight to live and love as she pleases.

A Fantastic Woman begins as almost a fantasy of what life could be if trans people were fully accepted, and embraced, for whom they truly are. This is not it portrays anything physically impossible but rather it presents what is socially improbable. But it is possible, because even for those who are most oppressed, there are slivers of perfection, and this is indeed a sliver, but it is awash in sensuousness, romance, and tranquility. Orlando (Francisco Reyes) strolls into the club where Marina, his girlfriend, is singing, via an inviting tracking shot. It is her birthday, and they conclude the evening with a night of passion at their shared apartment. She may be trans, and he might be 30 years older than her, but this is the life they have carved out for each other, so none of that other stuff matters.

But alas, this is all a prelude to Orlando suddenly falling ill and dying at the hospital. Immediately, Marina is now alone, even before Orlando’s family arrives to shut her out. Her evasive reaction might be what makes her appear suspicious to the authorities, but the truth is that she was never going to have a fair chance to mourn Orlando. His son Bruno (Nicolás Saavedra) openly disdains her and is not against using abuse and harassment to show it. His ex-wife, Sonia (Aline Küppenheim) is more civil, though she makes it clear enough that she would like to erase Marina from existence. She has a bit of an ally in his brother Gabo (Luis Gnecco), but he is too ineffectual to make a difference. Then there is the female detective (Amparo Noguera) who has worked cases involving trans women before and tries to present herself as a friend, but in her assumptions of foul play, she proves to be among the most invasive.

As Marina walks around adrift in her distressing new normal, there are some flashes of actual fantasy. A visit to a nightclub results in a music video interlude that lifts her up in the style of Björk’s “It’s Oh So Quiet.” A moment of walking along the sideway turns into a fight against the elements as she stands diagonally, pushing against a sudden sustained gust of intransigent wind. This shot, encapsulating willpower vs. status quo, embodies the whole of A Fantastic Woman. Despite how much someone is constantly knocked back, no matter how systematically, there are still opportunities for transcendent, ineffable bursts of humanity.

A Fantastic Woman is Recommended If You Like: Brokeback Mountain, The Florida Project, Foreign Films Set in Countries You’ve Never Visited

Grade: 4 out of 5 Resilient Decisions