Magazine article Variety

A Fantastic Woman

Magazine article Variety

A Fantastic Woman

Article excerpt

FILM REVIEW

A Fantastic Woman

Director: Sebastián Lelio

Starring: Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes

In "A Fantastic Woman," Chilean director Sebastián Lelio has crafted perhaps the most resonant and empathetic screen testament to the everyday obstacles of transgender existence since Kimberly Peirce's "Boys Don't Cry" Mingled with a wily, anxious streak of noir styling and likely to earn Almodóvarian comparisons, the film delivers a compassionate portrait of a trans woman whose mourning for a lost lover is obstructed at every turn by individual and institutional prejudice.

Stylistically, this is a trickier work than Lelio's previous film, "Gloria" The light, hot-and-cold shiver that characterizes "A Fantastic Woman" is established from the first notes of the score - a stunning, string-based creation by British electronic musician Matthew Herbert that blends the icy momentum of vintage Herrmann with spacious gasps of silence. The disquieting soundtrack plays enigmatically over the opening image of cascading waters at the spectacular Iguazau Falls on the Argentine-Brazilian border, a projection, we come to learn, of a romantic vacation that will never take place.

Everything in the film's opening beats is fashioned as a fine bone in the skeleton of a mystery, as divorced 57-year-old Orlando (Francisco Reyes) is introduced frequenting a shadowed sauna in downtown Santiago, later searching in vain for some missing, crucial paperwork, before meeting his glamorous, far younger girlfriend, bar singer Marina (the remarkable trans actress Daniela Vega), for a birthday dinner. That evening, Orlando suffers a fatal aneurysm; once Marina notifies Orlando's brother Gapo (Luis Gnecco) that he died on the operating table, she makes a panicked dash from the hospital, high heels clacking into the night before the police give chase. We soon learn that all this genre-implying cloak-and-dagger has been but a lithe directorial red herring, indicating the unjustified suspicion with which Marina is viewed by others.

She may look fierce in sunglasses and a tight leather skirt, but Marina is no femme fatale: Nothing about her identity or her relationship to the deceased is disreputable or disingenuous. Yet as she struggles to keep a lid on her grief, she finds herself treated as an impostor. Barred from the funeral, with almost no one willing to hear her emotional turmoil, she must forge an independent way to say goodbye and start anew. …

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