A Fantastic Woman (2018)
Daniela Vega’s introduction to Sebastián Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman is grand. Her older lover’s stroll through a busy bar guides him to Marina Vidal, the singer in the band flirting with Orlando (Francisco Reyes) offstage. Is thgis their first meeting? Or was this a gig before Marina’s birthday dinner? It blurs a bit as Marina’s grief at Orlando’s passing creates a wave of tumult and transphobia that upends her life.
This is not a coming out story. This is not a love story. At its most classifiable, this a survival story. Having just moved in with Orlando, a man the better part of twice his age, along with a series of unfortunate occurrences that lead her to being viewed as a hazard, a statistic or a villain, Marina’s course of mourning encounters every pitfall emotionally and legally she can face. Her pain was refreshing though, in the oddest way, as it exposed a lesser seen life of not only a trans woman, but a trans woman who is fully realized of her own identity and combatting the hideous faces of her late lover’s family.
Daniela Vega encapsulates her character. Subtle reactions to the hate she is exposed to, she balances the visits from SVU’s Chilean counterpart infringing on her physical rights. She is exposed and maintains her physical dignity by a tender thread; Vega’s bravery in the role hinges on her ability to combat the ugliness with a touch of beauty. Bouncing through surreal moments in her lonely reaction to Orlando’s death, she struggles with seeing the deceased through a crowded dance floor as she attempts to distract herself. He is in the backseat while washing Orlando’s car before returning it to his ex-wife. She is resistant but controlled as she is physically accosted by the hateful family she’s attempting to circumvent to give her respects to her departed lover. Wrapped in tape, just thrown into an alley best known for prostitution, she is dumped out of a truck to see the results of disrupting her lover’s wake, and seeing herself in a car window, she is aghast at how much she is hated for being herself. Her disbelief and subsequent catharsis proves a strength and fragility she is narrowly straddling.
Lelio’s touch is light if a bit scattered; there’s a fluidity to the story that leads to sudden surrealism that never shakes the superb Vega. The team recounts a collision of perception; Orlando’s family does not trust what they haven’t tried to understand. Had Marina not be born Daniel, would the family still be making this fuss? They treat her as an abomination that will scar their children and destroy their departed husband/brother/father’s memory. Fortunately, Marina discovered herself in a much desired prequel; I’m sure it was not an easy upcoming, but unlike other stories like Transparent, Gun Hill Road, and even Adventures of Priscilla, we find a trans woman already comfortable with herself and handling the bigotry around her. Marina isn’t finding her trans identity; she is a grieving woman facing prejudice, and Daniela Vega creates magic with the role. And yes, she does her own singing.