In modern-day Santiago, all is good for Marina (Daniela Vega), a lounge singer and waitress who is a trans woman, until she suddenly loses Orlando, her older boyfriend, and the world around her turns, and turns on her, closing her off. If not for the poised vitality of Marina (and Vega), Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s “A Fantastic Woman” (Una mujer fantástica) could be brute tragedy, instead of a volatile, sometimes fantasticated portrait of resilience and dignity in the face of hostility, even malice from authorities and Orlando’s family. “Fantastic Woman” exists in the same zone as “Gloria,” similar streets, similar desires, borne by characters who insist on their dignity, as Lelio does, that they are as ordinary, as decent, as human as anyone else. “I like to think that the film, like Marina,” Lelio has written, “is not afraid of pleasure and like her, has a striking and shiny surface. It tries to combine the narrative and the visual pleasure in games of appearances that want to captivate. A sort of Trojan horse loaded with humanity.”
See me for myself; see me as I see myself. See me as I shall become. (The bold, bright flights of fancy are splendid and necessary.) Grief is a motherfucker; Marina confronts it head on. Vega, herself trans, defiant, resilient, faces all, creating that fantastic woman as we observe, transfixed. 104m. (Ray Pride)
“A Fantastic Woman” opens Friday, February 9 at the Music Box, River East and Cinemark Evanston.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published later this year.