Sunday, January 28, 2018

A Fantastic Woman: Love, Grief, and Compassion in Santiago

By José Alberto Hermosillo

“A Fantastic Woman” is stunning! It is a film about love, grief, and compassion—timely, arresting, controversially fierce, and undeniably moving. It is a modern masterpiece.

“A Fantastic Woman” is this year’s underdog to win the Oscar for Best
Foreign Language Film.

In 2010, the favorite picture to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language was Michael Haneke’s masterwork The White Ribbon - the insightful Argentinean film The Secret in Their Eyes took the gold. This year, the Swedish Palme d’Or winner The Square is the front-runner, but the South American transsexual venture can be the night’s big surprise.

This year’s Chilean contender elevates the public into the universal paradigm of what will happen if the person you love dies in your arms?

Marina Vidal is reliable and, at the same time, a vulnerable transgender performer - a hard-working waitress who dreams of becoming a “Torch Singer.” 

“A Fantastic Woman,” Daniela Vega as Marina Vidal, photo courtesy of Sony Classics 2017
What makes this insightful film more authentic and relevant is Marina’s person (Daniela Vega), a real transgender actress and an excellent singer with a beautiful voice.

Orlando (Francisco Reyes), a 57-year-old divorced textile company owner, is Marina’s lover. The camera pans him admiring Marina while she sings, “Your Love is Yesterday’s Newspapers.” After that, the loving couple celebrates Marina’s birthday over Chinese, where he professes his love to her. 

“A Fantastic Woman,” Daniela Vega as Marina Vidal, photo courtesy of Sony Classics 2017

Later that evening, Marina rushes him to the hospital. The first perplexing moment in that chaotic situation asphyxiates her. She has to deal with the pain of losing someone dear to her and the scrutiny of doctors, police, and the detective officer from the sexual offenses unit. They all want to implicate her in a crime that did not occur just because she is a transsexual woman.

AFI FEST, a standing ovation for A FANTASTIC WOMAN, photo Jose Hermosillo, Copyright FestivalinLA 2017.

After Orlando’s sudden death shock, what follows is even worse than the regular dying business. When Marina wants to go to her lover’s funeral, his ex-wife disagrees, and she has to explain to the singer that Marina and her ex-husband’s relationship is an act of perversion.

Her effort to keep Marina away from the family becomes a campaign that involves humiliation, abuse, and an attempt to arrest her.

Orlando suffered head wounds from a fall as she was trying to get him to the hospital. The family, ashamed of their father’s “immoral” conduct, will try to break Marina’s spirit. Their imagination runs them wild.

Through Maria’s experience, we can see social injustice, and she has to confront society and its laws. Marina is not a criminal, a prostitute, or the monster everyone thinks she is. She is a hard-working person with dreams and emotions like everyone else, as she proudly says: “My name is Marina Vidal. Do you have a problem with that?

Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio (
“Gloria”) has an innovative storytelling style focusing on women’s issues with heightened awareness, sensibility, and respect. 

Leilo’s humanistic approach is impactful.

Sebastian Lelio, ‘A Fantastic Woman.’ Photo by Jose Hermosillo ©2018 FESTIVAL IN LA 

Influenced by the magic-realism of the Chilean writer Isabel Allende (“The House of the Spirits”), Sebastián Lelio and his co-writer Gonzalo Masa developed the main character with universal appeal, mixing this traditional drama with magic-realism and hyper-realism.

Director Sebastian Lelio, ‘A Fantastic Woman’ Photo Jose Hermosillo 

In like manner, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason’s documentary “Bridegroom” (2013) addresses the touchy subject of “domestic partners” and the absence of their legal rights in hospitals with their outdated rules and bureaucracy. In Marina’s case, the film exemplifies how, in Chile, as in many other places globally, transgender people and, in general, the LGBTQ community are unprotected by the law.

“A Fantastic Woman” is an exquisite film comparable to Pedro Almodóvar’s “All About My Mother.” The most powerful scene comes when a strong wind tries to erase Marina from the earth while she stoically remains attached to her destiny.

Daniela Vega in A Fantastic Woman, Chile. Photo courtesy of the Berlin Film Festival 2017.

The striking visuals, the richness of colors, reflecting mirrors, and perfect framing are the responsibility of the talented cinematographer Benjamin Echazarreta, whose arresting images create the right impact for the viewer.

The opening sequence of the Iguassu Cascades is evocative and visually contrasts with the modern part of the city in a style similar to Venezuela’s hyper-realistic Golden Lion winner, “Desde Allá/From Afar.”

The beauty of the film resides in Marina’s evolution into the perfect woman she wants to be. As she sings Aretha Franklin’s cover, “You Made Me Feel Like a Natural Woman,” she attempts to remove negativity from her system.

“A Fantastic Woman,” Daniela Vega as Marina Vidal, photo courtesy of Sony Classics 2017

Very few movies center on an actual transgender person as genuine as in “A Fantastic Woman.” Prejudices and public humiliation represent homophobia. Those stigmas are similar to the ones shown in the relationship between a transgender woman and a U.S. Army Officer in the 2003 TV movie (based on a true story), “Soldier’s Girl” by Frank Pierson.

During the film’s conception, actress Daniela Vega worked as a script consultant to bring authenticity to the project - until one day - the director wrote her a letter of invitation to take Marina’s lead. Daniela jumped on the spot.

Daniela Vega, ‘A Fantastic Woman’ Photo Jose Hermosillo ©2018 FESTIVAL IN LA 

Daniela Vega’s spectacular breakthrough performance in “A Fantastic Woman” deserved an Oscar© nomination.

Producers Juan de Dios and Pablo Larrain, Daniela Vega and Sebastian Lelio ©2018 Festival in LA

Producers Pablo and Juan de Dios Larraín (“No,” “Neruda,” and “Jackie”) invested in a risky film that is taking the world by storm.

“A Fantastic Woman” is a classy and gripping film about the transgender community who have struggled for quite some time and don’t give up on their fight for “equality and justice” in a closed-minded society.

“A Fantastic Woman,” Daniela Vega as Marina Vidal, photo courtesy of Sony Classics 2017

The problems presented in the film need to be addressed personally and openly. 

Orlando’s unexpected passing sets this Latino, tropical-flamboyant movie’s grim tone from the beginning. And its artistic touch makes out of “A Fantastic Woman” an inspiring story.

Marina’s ordeal challenges its audience, providing the right tools to explore, expand, and connect with empathy and respect with the brave people who choose to be as different as Marina Vidal in “A Fantastic Woman,” 
a colorful, classy, and mind-blowing film.

Director Sebastian Lelio, ‘A Fantastic Woman’ Selfie by Jose Hermosillo ©2018 FESTIVAL IN LA

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The Square: An “Exit Through the Gift Shop”

By José Alberto Hermosillo

“The Square”
 is brilliant, intellectually, and emotionally entertaining.

This sophisticated and well-told story centers on the Stockholm museum’s director and curator, Christian (Claes Bang), who falls elegantly into a personal and professional catastrophe through a new and provocative exhibit.
Pretending to be a role model, a good father, and a fantastic lover, he thinks he can take any woman to bed. In this case, an American reporter (Elisabeth Moss) covers the story of the museum’s new opening. After a few drinks, the reporter and the director have one of the funniest after-sex scenes ever.
“The Square” is a beautiful satire placing humans in implausible situations blown out of proportion. As Christian says, “We, as a museum, mustn’t be afraid to push boundaries.”
Actor Claes Bang as Christian. COPYRIGHT 2017
The humor has irony within. The mockery of sophisticated people that look like standup comedians is absolute. The sarcasm pushes everyone into corners of the arena.
Ruben Östlund, The Square. Photo Jose Hermosillo COPYRIGHT  
Swedish director Ruben Östlund is a perfectionist who doesn’t mind doing more than twenty-five takes until he gets what he wants from the actors. He says in five takes,s you can’t get a precise reaction from the performers.

In a conversation with Mr. Östlund, he freely expressed his thoughts on violence in a film, “We love violence in cinema because it doesn’t represent a threat or physical damage to us. Same with dark comedy, it has horror and amusement as well.”

In the director’s previous work, “Force Majure,” the conflict between husband and wife is because of the husband’s passivity and inability to take action to protect his family from an avalanche, which makes him the most hated character in the story, from the wife and everybody else. In contrast with “The Square,” the male character is as susceptible and vulnerable as his female counterpart, regardless of his inability to make the right decisions.

In the director’sdirector’s body of work, the influence of Lina Wertmuller’s misogynist film “Swap Away” (1974) with its battle of the sexes is notorious. And another subtle reference is the surrealistic Oscar winner “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” by Luis Buñuel.

The film, far from condescending, is a rigorous critique of today’s society.
The audience who assisted to the world premiere at the famous French Riviera Film Festival saw themselves reflected on the big screen because the actors in the movie were also wearing tuxedos and nightgowns. The spectators identify with the actors because they look alike.

The story goes furthermore when the performers representing the rich people in the scene contemplate a man acting like an orangutan. He aggressively started capturing the patrons’ fear with his hunting instinct, pushing boundaries to the limit.
While invoking to discover what is inside “The Square,” the director added to the conversation, “Human beings are elementary and easy to change their behavior.”

Anarchy is represented through animal behavior, contrasting with the people’s rights intentions and the true meaning of art.
Ruben Östlund, film critic Jose Hermosillo COPYRIGHT 
Pretentiously conceived to win the Palm d’Or in Cannes, the film aspires to perfection with its terrific cast and original story. Still, its narrative pushes its theme so hard that it misses its substance internally – Then the movie becomes conceited and hard to believe.

The 2017 Palm d’Or winner is elegant and fun to watch, but you can’t only depend a little on what is real and what is not. If you dare to enter to see and experience “The Square” at a museum or opt out to “Exit Through the Gift Shop.”

Film Critic Jose Alberto Hermosillo, Copyright

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Copyright © 2018 Festival in LA

In the Fade; “Revanche” in Hamburg

By José Alberto Hermosillo

“In the Fade” is an intense, game-changing thriller that will make you see humanity from a new perspective. 

This year’s winner of the Golden Globe and the Critics’ Choice Awards is a brilliant German feature directed by Fatih Akin (“Goodbye Berlin,” “The Edge of Heaven,” and “Head-On”).

Fatih Akin, director of “In the Fade,” photo Jose Alberto Hermosillo. 2018, COPYRIGHT FestivalinLA 

The story begins with a fun, loving, interracial German-Turkish couple in Hamburg. A tragic event perpetrated by a White Supremacist is about to change their lives.

After a terrorist attack outside the couple’s office, Katja (Diane Kruger) is beyond consolable. She loses herself to a deep depression where suicidal thoughts seem her only peace. 

The arrest of the two suspects in the case of the murder of her son and husband will confront her with them in court, only to further hate.

When justice eludes the victim, vengeance is an obsession, becoming a drug of choice. Not thinking clearly and out of options, she firmly believes retribution is now in her hands to execute.

Winner of the 2017 Best Actress award at Cannes, Diane Kruger’s performance is a terrific and emotionally intense character, creating tremendous energy and an electric connection with the audience.

“In the Fade” has a very well-researched script, displaying through its eloquent jargon a vivid German courtroom battle with their proper cultural actions unfolding every character's personal situation.

Turkish-German Director Fatih Akin made a personal film adding his vision of racial struggle in his new country. Without being unapologetic, he presents the raw and sad sentiment of racial intolerance that darkens the world in his film.

Fatih Akin, the director, was sure to never show swastikas and other fascist symbols. He cleverly removed all the free propaganda that only benefits those extreme-right radical groups by saying, “We are aware of them, and we are not afraid.” For instance,  the word “Neo-Nazi” was meticulously mentioned only in two crucial moments of the story, noting more. 

American films rarely touch this controversial subject as sordid and vividly as Europeans do. The different realities influenced the way they tell their stories differently. 

It is worth mentioning two significant American landmarks, “American History X” (1998) and the documentary “Oklahoma City” (2017). 

The European and Middle-East productions are much bolder. Those films are essentially more authentic about domestic terrorism, such as the French show “Made in France,” “Les Cowboys,” and “Carlos.”

Oscar nominees “Paradise Now” and “Omar” from Palestine are transcendental regarding what we can learn from their history of violence. “The Attack” from Lebanon is another powerful film about endless war. 

Israel also has many terrific films on terrorism, such as “Bethlehem” and “Adjami.” Morroco produced “Horses of God” and “Death for Sale.” Those portray of their restless youth are shown on the screen as no other country could do. 

“In the Fade” is told chronologically, and its structure is in two acts - a courtroom drama and an intense psychological thriller. Its assembly must be more creative to make its linear system less predictable. 

More daring editing is needed with a back-and-forth narrative that could add a more thought-provoking concept, similar to the composition and complexity of films like “Pulp Fiction,” “Babel” or “Irreversible.”

“In the Fade” is a well-recommended flick; it has won many awards worldwide but failed to get an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film in 2018. It must be why the Academy members skipped this winning German import.

“In the Fade” is a challenging project that works well as catharsis about the pulsing of a modern World immersed in a Social Crisis.

Film Critic Jose Alberto Hermosillo