Review: A Fantastic Woman (2017)

Director: Sebastián Lelio
Screenwriters: Sebastián Lelio, Gonzalo Maza
Starring: Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco, Aline Küppenheim, Nicolás Saavedra
Genres: Drama, LGBT+, Foreign/International
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, sexual content, nudity, and a disturbing assault
Release Dates: 2/2/18 (Theatres); 5/23/18 (Streaming)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Oscars: Won–International/Foreign Film
Runtime: 1 hour, 44 minutes
Where to Watch: Rent/Buy — Amazon, Fandango, etc.

A Fantastic Woman is not the perfect film that people have made it out to be, but considering that it is the first Oscar-winning foreign/international film featuring a transgender character — whose star, Daniela Vega, became the first transgender presenter in Oscars history — its impact is impressive. Writer/director Lelio’s film is often much subtler than I’d anticipated, which is somewhat of a breath of fresh air — except when it’s too subtle. 

The film centers on a young Chilean waitress and young singer who just so happens to be transgender; and, of course, this ends up being a very important part of the narrative, as she dealt with the unexpected death of her much older boyfriend, and the aftermath. Unfortunately, not everyone in her boyfriend’s family is accepting of her, and not everyone she encounters in the film will properly gender her. Fortunately, though, there are some (including her sister) who treat her with the respect she deserves. There’s even a brutal assault, and Marina is even forced to strip down in front of strangers while they take pictures of her naked body. 

It’s unclear what Marina’s motivations are, and what drives her to do the things she does. Why did she date such an older man, and why doesn’t she seem so upset about his death? Perhaps she’s meant to be mysterious, but I would’ve like to have known more about her backstory and her life, although we get a decent glimpse throughout the course of the film. 

Newcomer Vega gives an astonishingly good performance here; she may appear wooden and impassive at times, but its the subtlety that really sells the character (despite not knowing everything about her). It’s also wonderful to see transgender actors finally playing transgender characters, instead of cisgender actors playing transgender characters (I see you, Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl). 

The film is very gorgeously, lovingly shot. It also presents Chile (in particular, Santiago, the capital) as much more diverse than I would have thought. I wish that some of the earlier narrative points had been addressed later on, and the ending seems a bit abrupt. But maybe that’s the point.