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. 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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