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Film Review: A Fantastic Woman @ London Film Festival 2017


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As the film industry continues to find itself under fire for the lack of diverse roles for the LGBT community, director and writer Sebstián Lelio brings us the beautifully original and tremendously moving A Fantastic Woman.

Representation in film isn’t about forcing underrepresented communities into certain roles for the sake of it, or just to meet a quota. It’s about telling the stories that are largely untold, and bringing these stories to a wider audience. A Fantastic Woman is just what the film industry needs right now; trans people telling trans stories.

A Fantastic Woman feels incredibly ordinary in a powerful way – it tells a moving story in an ordinary life. And I mean ordinary in the sense that this is not a dramatised or Hollywood version of a story. It’s as realistic as film gets when it comes to people and their personal experiences.

And sadly this story is ordinary for Marina Vidal (Daniela Vega), a transgender woman who faces passive discrimination in one way or another by those who interract with her.

The narrative revolves around Marina after her partner Orlando dies in the night, leaving her to pick up the pieces and face what ranges from petty rudeness to outright abuse from Orlando’s family and even murder suspicion. The days after his death in the raw initial grieving stage are just brutal, being brought under suspicion to the Sexual Offences Unit, having her dog taken away from her and even being banned from the funeral.

Being a transgender woman, Marina is far from respected by Orlando’s family. His ex wife in particular speaks to Marina with such malicious discontent and describes Marina and Orlando’s relationship as ‘perverse’.

As a Chilean production with the dialogue spoken in Spanish, the extended interaction scenes between two characters are gripping and should be a stark reminder to those less inclined to watch foreign language films that subtitles do not take anything away from the film. The tension in the various interactions between Marina and Orlando’s family is palpable and creates a painfully uncomfortable atmosphere.

Not only is the unjust treatment of Marina heart breaking, but infuriating. Even the police refuse to refer to Marina as a ‘she’, instead using ‘him’ because her new ID is pending. The subtlety in these types of interactions are the most powerful indicators of the treatment that the LGBT community still suffer today.

Daniela Vega herself delivers an absolute power house performance – quiet, calm, and totally composed. The authenticity with which she handles ignorance in the film is an indication to just how familiar these issues must be to trans person. A woman numb with grief, she is not quite broken, but rather fed up with no fight left in her other than her dignified composure in the face of hate.

But what ultimately wins is Marina’s fight and her confidence in her identity even in the face of unbelievable adversity.

With big names producing the film including Pablo Larraín (Jackie) and Maren Ade (Toni Erdmann), lets hopes that both Lelio and Vega get the same recognition for an incredible and utterly moving film with a powerful relevance today.

A Fantastic Woman screened as part of the 2017 BFI London Film Festival this October. Further details can be found here.

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