Fantastic Woman won the Oscar this year for Best Foreign Language Film. It is the first film to star a transgender woman, Daniela Vega, and it is about the difficulties and prejudice that face a transgender woman when her lover dies.
Marina (Vega) and Orlando (Francisco Reyes) are in love and planning for the future. Marina is a young waitress and aspiring singer. Orlando is 20 years older than her, and owns a printing company. After celebrating Marina’s birthday one evening, Orlando falls seriously ill. Marina rushes him to the emergency room, but he passes away just after arriving at the hospital. Instead of being able to mourn her lover, suddenly Marina is treated with suspicion. She faces opposition everywhere she goes. The doctors don’t trust her. An investigator from the sex crimes unit demeans Marina by conducting an embarrassing investigation of her. Orlando’s ex-wife forbids her from attending the funeral. Orlando’s family is openly hostile toward her, ashamed of his relationship with her, labeling her a “chimera” and shooing her away from the burial. She’s given no outlet to mourn or grieve, emotions the world deems her not worthy to feel.
But Marina is no lilting flower. She keeps her poise and composure throughout, putting on a brave face for the world, even as she is devastated inside. Co-writer and director Sebastián Lelio (“Gloria”) doesn’t need to paint the backstory of Marina’s character, because it’s all there in Vega’s face: she is a study in confidence, self-control and dignity. She’s taken years of abuse, absorbed it and risen above it, because she has had to in order to survive. The film doesn’t need to make a case for Marina’s basic humanity and smartly avoids clichés of persecution storytelling, instead ceding the floor to Vega’s magnetic presence and soulfulness. She is a marvel, and if one doesn’t come away loving her as Orlando did, it’s no shortcoming of the film.
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Venue: William Loveless Hall