A Fantastic Woman would be better titled A Woman Scorned, writes Darren Bevan. 

A searing and compassionate take on identity, prejudice and struggle, this Chilean film and its Oscar-nominated lead Daniela Vega is an intriguing and enraging take on a life and a society unable to accept what is in front of it.

Vega plays Marina, the transgender lover of older Orlando. On her birthday, after a night of passion and romance together, Marina’s world is changed when Orlando awakes feeling unwell. Despite taking him to the hospital, Orlando dies, and Marina flees the scene, stricken with grief.

However, she’s picked up by the police and investigations begin into how Orlando died and what part she played in it….

Suspicions swirl in A Fantastic Woman, but there’s no doubt that Vega makes Marina a character to root for as she suffers gradual degradation of her identity, denigration of her place in life in general and in Orlando’s family and uncertainty in her own future.

What is clear is what director Sebastian Lelio wants to do.

Determined to start a conversation over treatment of others, societal prejudices and grief, Lelio fashions a film that avoids stereotypes and centres us purely in Marina’s life and her actions.

The reactions of others to Marina’s plight are the most telling; signs that intolerance is depressingly never far away bubble under the film and as the injustices begin to weigh up against Marina, there’s no denying that even the most stoic of hearts will fail to be unmoved by what’s going on, as you desperately will others to feel some compassion.

And yet, with a deeply empathetic lead and a dextrous director, A Fantastic Woman becomes a timeless film that offers a study of grief, and of societal rage. Cleverly underplayed, and beautifully and seamlessly transposed to the screen, the transphobia is highlighted and yet never brutally hammered home.

There’s dignity in Daniela Vega’s compassionate turn as Marina – from vehemently correcting a family member who keeps calling her Marisa to a determination to get a dog back, through to scenes where Marina’s haunted by the spirit of Orlando to a quiet final send-off, A Fantastic Woman packs power into its taut run time and wisely resists the urge to preach.

Because of these factors alone, A Fantastic Woman more than lives up to its title.

A Fantastic Woman

Cast: Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes

Director: Sebastian Lelio

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