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Oscar Countdown/Foreign Film Friday: A Fantastic Woman review

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A Fantastic Woman tells the story of Marina (Daniela Vega), a transgender woman that has to face the sudden death of her boyfriend, Orlando (Francisco Reyes), who was twenty years older that her. After this unexpected tragedy, she has to put up with the hatred, exclusion, and harassment of his family that won’t let her mourn her loss in peace.

This Chilean film directed by Sebastián Lelio has already received many awards, including a Goya Award for Best Ibero-American Film, and it is nominated to the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It is without a doubt deserving of all these accolades -- it really is a fantastic film!

A Fantastic Woman starts off showing the audience a very explicit relationship between an older man and a young transgender woman. Quite a daring start, if we take into account how taboo the topic still is in many parts of the world, including Chile. Orlando’s death is followed by a series of violent and transphobic events that Marina has to endure while she fights for her right to be treated as a person, not only by Orlando's family, but also by the police and medical staff. Though difficult to watch, these are some of the best parts of the movie. A Fantastic Woman is one of those films that are uncomfortable to watch because they show truth, ugliness, unfairness: reality just as it is.

Throughout the movie, we get to experience the trauma with Marina, who has to deal with suspicion, prejudice, and hatred just because she is trans. Orlando’s family won’t leave her alone, and we witness her helplessness in this violent situation. She is not only the other woman, a homewrecker, but also transgender, and therefore considered an abobination and a degenerate.

The whole issue turns from a domestic problem into LGBT discrimination and hatred. The film is condemning society’s way of treating people that are different in a very direct way. Marina is introduced as a kind-hearted and honest girl, which strongly contrasts with how she is consistently treated by the people that surround her. Shame will take over the audience as they watch this story about the concept of identity and the enormous influence it has on ourselves and others.  

Daniela Vega is magnificent as Marina Vidal. Also a trans woman, Vega perfectly portrays Marina’s feelings: her fear, her pain, her outrage, her strength, and her vulnerability. Both the character and the actress are incredibly inspiring, and Vega’s performance feels so honest that it is impossible not to immediately empathise with Marina. The film also dares to present a serious and deep trans character that moves away from the stereotypical caricature that is often seen on screen. Marina is a trans woman, yes, but what the movie is urging us to do is to stop seeing her as that, and to see her as a person instead. She says it herself to one of Orlando's sons: “I’m the same as you.”

A Fantastic Woman is an emotional roller-coaster that will make you sad, angry, ashamed, and outraged, but also touched and relieved. Leilo’s drama is a compelling story about alienation and survival. There is a moment in the film when Marina is suddenly pushed back by the wind. She struggles to keep walking against it, for it is so strong that she can barely move forward. The scene is a metaphor of what the film is truly about: Marina fighting against injustice, prejudice, violence, and hatred, standing tall and defiant even in the worst possible circumstances. She eventually finds the strength to stand up for herself, in spite of her grief and vulnerability. After all, she is a fantastic woman.

A Fantastic Woman is in cinemas now.

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