A Fantastic Woman arrives at the London Film Festival with a lot of prestige behind it. Sebastian Lelio’s film won the Silver Lion at Berlin after rave reviews, and boasts both Pablo Larraín and Maren Ade on its production team. With all this critical clout, and its timely story of societal transphobia, expectations were always going to be high, and thankfully, A Fantastic Woman delivers.
After her boyfriend Orlando (Francisco Reyes) dies suddenly, Marina Vidal (trans actress Daniela Vega) is cast adrift. Orlando provided Marina with care both emotional and material, and his departure leaves her with no car, home, or friendly faces. Marina is put through a wringer of emotional and physical humiliations, though the suffering is never gratuitous – instead presented with vital empathy, and always through Marina’s eyes. Most other characters barely register as anything more than ciphers and obstacles, as they hurl vile abuse Marina’s way.
It’s a distressing watch, made tragic by Vega’s subtle, internal performance. The weight of the world has clearly been on her shoulders for a long time, and now she’s fighting against complete collapse. Her quiet fury at the world’s ceaseless injustices is infectious, and moments where she snaps are devastating and cathartic. A sublime score and wondrous visuals immerse you in Lelio’s world, a heightened reality punctuated by striking daydreams. A windstorm turns the world sideways, and a grungy bar transforms into a glittering disco in these thrillingly-choreographed sequences, though they are slightly let down by the odd choice of having Vega stare directly into the camera at the end of each.
With so many trans stories led by cis actors, A Fantastic Woman represents a bold step forward, but also stands alone as a great, always relevant study of resilience in the face of a thoughtless and cowardly world.
CAST: Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco, Aline Küppenheim
DIRECTOR: Sebastián Lelio
WRITERS: Sebastián Lelio, Gonzalo Maza
SYNOPSIS: Marina, a waitress who moonlights as a nightclub singer, is bowled over by the death of her older boyfriend.