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aka - Mujer Fantástica, Una
Chile/Germany/Spain/USA 2017
Directed by
Sebastian Lelio
100 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Fantastic Woman, A

When Orlando, her wealthy older lover (Francisco Reyes), dies suddenly, Marina (Daniela Vega), a transgender woman who works as a waitress and moonlights as a nightclub singer, has to deal with the suspicions of medical staff and police as well as, more hurtfully, the contempt of his family.  

Although the subject matter is pure Almodóvar, Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s follow-up to his 2013 film Gloria  is a much more contained treatment of sexual taboo but it stands with the best of the Spanish director’s work as sensitive and heart-felt drama. Above all. A Fantastic Woman is a touching story of one person's brave commitment to her individuality in the face of entrenched social prejudice.

Centre-stage is Daniela Vega a transgender actress making what is effectively her screen debut who grounds the potentially florid material with a quietly confident performance that makes Marina’s remarkably dogged (to pun somewhat) behaviour completely credible (although the same can’t be said about her singing, at least of the classical kind, which not only looks obviously dubbed but is not justified by the film’s characterisation of her). The film is almost entirely taken up by her ongoing battle to have Orlando’s family, indeed the world at large, acknowledge her as an equal. (In this respect the film bears a distant family resemblance to The Naked Civil Servant,1975).

Vega is in virtually every scene as Lelio with his cinematographer Benjamín Echazarreta tracks Marina closely, now focussing directly on her face, now observing her from a distance and inflecting a predominantly naturalistic look with occasional telling shifts into artificial colour and lighting and at times slightly surreal staging as when in a striking tracking shot Marina walks along a street into a gale force wind.

The use in one scene of Aretha Franklin's ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’ is to say the least questionable and I must confess that the film’s resolution, which involves some locker keys and a German Shepherd,eluded me but A Fantastic Woman which won the 2018 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film is still a rewarding experience. .




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