A Fantastic Woman

Playing club singer Marina Vidal, the Chilean newcomer Daniela Vega delivers an outstanding debut performance that challenges, beguiles and mesmerises any viewer.

She’s a creature of fascination, both to us and to all the characters in the film who are all searching to find out who this woman really is. I supposed Marina’s on a bit of quest for that, too, but not as much as everyone else who seems totally wrong-footed by the sexual fluidity and human dignity of Marina.

She’s plunged into a drama when her older lover, Orlando, dies in her arms, ending their blissful, escapist love affair. She takes him to hospital and immediately the authorities want to know who she is. Police, doctors, lawyers, friends, they all want to know who this person was to the respectable Orlando. 

The dead man’s family are particularly upset. Not only was this husband and father having an affair – that seems to be ok, as long as it happened in the Santiago pied-a-terre away from the suburban family home – but that it was with this much younger person, who’s also trans. Marina is threatened with eviction from the flat and banned from attending her lover’s funeral. She’s also under suspicion from the police. Only her dog has no issues with her gender or personality.

Director Sebastian Lelio weaves a magical spell, his delicate and mysterious film moving from melodrama to thriller to musical and political metaphor. You get a great look at Santiago life and you peer deep into the soul of a woman who has done nothing wrong yet whom society immediately mistrusts. 

The film plays cheeky (Crying?) games with that aspect, too, daring us to look, to ask questions, to require answers, to stare. And Marina Vidal just stares back, defiant, beautiful, fantastic.

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