‘Una Mujer Fantástica’ Review
A few years ago, Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Lelio and his co-writer Gonzalo Maza delivered a terrific little indie entitled Gloria (starring Paulina Garcia). It told the story of a single woman in her late 50’s navigating a society not designed to provide happiness for her. This time out, Mr. Lelio and Mr. Maza collaborate on the story of another fantastic woman, in what could easily be described as a companion piece to their previous film. This new film is called Una Mujer Fantástica (A Fantastic Woman).
Trans actress Daniela Vega stars as Marina, a waitress who moonlights as a singer. The film begins quietly with Orlando (Francisco Reyes), a distinguished gentleman, enjoying an afternoon spa treatment, before heading over to catch Marina’s singing act. Orlando and the much younger Marina are a couple. Their connection is obvious as they spend an evening dining, dancing, and heading to bed. Tragically, Orlando suffers an aneurysm and Marina rushes him to the hospital. When he dies, she is subjected to questioning, accusations, and a true lack of respect by most everyone – doctors, nurses, police, and Orlando’s family.
Marina is questioned by a sex crimes detective (Amparo Noguera) about her relationship with Orlando and whether she was paid or abused, the implication here being that she was likely a prostitute. Orlando’s brother Gabo (Luis Gnecco), son Bruno (Nicolas Saavedra) and even ex-wife Sonia (Aline Kuppenheim) have reactions that range from passive-aggressive to threatening towards Marina and forbid her from attending the wake and funeral, and won’t even let her take the pet dog.
Cinematographer Benjamin Echazzarreta effectively uses light and color, and quite often has Marina front and center – either head-on or from behind. Marina’s visions and dream-like sequences allow us to understand how the stress of the situation is affecting her, and just how much she misses Orlando. She displays much inner-strength and dignity in the face of hatred and disgust…even while being treated as a criminal and/or victim – really anything except the partner she was.
The film has been nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, and it’s easy to see why. Beautifully photographed with a knockout lead performance from Daniela Vega, the story emphasizes how we so often strive for “normal” that we lose our empathy and humanity in how we treat others. Music is put to good use – even the quite obvious use of Aretha Franklin singing “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and there is even a clever use of a McGuffin (a locker key). This well-made film with a powerful message is a reminder to ‘keep on keeping on.’