Marina is a young, transgendered woman, living and working as a singer and waitress in the Chilean capital of Santiago. Portrayed with depth, resilience, and strength by Daniela Vega (The Guest), she has recently been given approval for gender reassignment surgery. Furthermore, she is involved romantically with Orlando (Francisco Reyes), her much older lover, whom she adores. Late one evening, hours after having shared a romantic dinner with Marina, Orlando wakes up feeling ill and confused. In a panic, Marina leaves Orlando outside their apartment building, as she is attempting to collect her things and herself, in order to drive him to the hospital. Unfortunately, in the interim, Orlando, who can’t keep himself steady, falls and makes matters worse. Marina, who will wind up getting questioned by the police regarding the incident, who, despite any corroborating evidence, think that Orlando received some of his injuries from fighting with her. If the accusations and harassment stopped there, it would be one thing, but they don’t. During the film, Marina is thought to be, amongst other things: a prostitute; a cold-hearted, gold-digger; and a man pretending to be a woman.
Marina’s world, which included a man whom she loved and respected, and who reciprocated those feelings, as well as the needed medical approval to become whom she has always felt she’s been, begins to take a downward spiral. Orlando dies from an aneurysm, but because Marina is his girlfriend, and not his wife, she has no legal claim over anything pertaining to Orlando. For example, she must move from the apartment the two of them shared. Orlando’s ex-wife, Sonia (Aline Küppenheim) and her menacing son Bruno (Nicolás Saavedra), take no measures to hide their contemptuous feelings for Marina, and have made it clear, that she is not welcome to attend Orlando’s wake or funeral. The only member of Orlando’s family who treats Marina with kindness is his brother Gabo (Luis Gnecco), who has the intelligence to understand that Marina loved his brother.
The story is shown, during its 104 minute runtime, through Marina’s point-of-view. As viewers, we get to experience the degradation she’s forced to endure because of bigotry, as well as the toll it takes on her. Marina is at a complex juncture of her life; each day brings with it a struggle to persevere. On occasion, the prejudice directed at Marina causes her to make some less than stellar choices. For example, at one point she begins to jump up and down on top of Sonia’s car because she is fed up with being mistreated. In essence, all Marina wants, as would any person who truly loved someone who has passed on, is to pay her final respects to Orlando.
“A Fantastic Woman” was directed by Sebastián Lelio (Gloria), who co-wrote the screenplay with Gonzalo Maza (The Year of the Tiger). The film premiered on February 12, 2017 at the Berlin International Film Festival, and from there, would represent Chile, and go on to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year. Enhancing the movie is the, at times, lyrical cinematography by Benjamín Echazarreta (Bala Loca), and the well-executed score composed by Nani García (De profundis) and Matthew Herbert (Vida y color). One aspect of the film that I admired, was the filmmakers’ choice not to make Marina’s character someone who sets out to change the narrow-minded views of those who feel animosity toward her because she is transgender. Marina has enough self-respect that she doesn’t need the approval of individuals who view her as a second class citizen. The story, at its center, is about survival while being true to one’s self in the face of adversity.