Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco, Aline Kuppenheim, Nicolas Saavedra, Amparo Noguera, Nestor Cantillana, Alejandro Goic, Antonia Zegers, Sergio Hernandez
Written by: Sebastián Lelio, Gonzalo Maza
Directed by: Sebastián Lelio
MPAA Rating: R for language, sexual content, nudity and a disturbing assault
Language: Spanish, with English subtitles
Running Time: 104
Date: 02/02/2018
IMDB

A Fantastic Woman (2017)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

She's All That

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A current Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, Sebastian Lelio's A Fantastic Woman is perhaps an even stronger work than his previous Gloria, though both are nuanced, interior portraits of people who judged as outsiders before they've even had a chance. A Fantastic Woman opens as divorced 57-year-old Orlando (Francisco Reyes) tries to find some important papers before heading to a nightclub. He pauses to watch a pretty singer, Marina (Daniela Vega), before we realize that he has a date with her.

It's some time later -- at least for me -- that we may realize that Marina is a trans woman (and so, in real life, is Vega). This couple seems very happy, and Orlando surprises her with a cruise. They go home and make love, and then Orlando suffers a fatal aneurysm. At first, Marina simply walks away from the hospital, perhaps knowing that their situation will arouse nothing but suspicion and scorn, and she's right. (She has an awkward moment when the doctor refers to her by the male name on her birth certificate.) The police catch up to her, and then Orlando's cruel family contact her to let her know that she's not allowed to attend any funeral services, and is no longer allowed to stay in his apartment; she's not even allowed to keep their dog.

Marina argues when she can, but mostly she bottles everything up. She knows how she's perceived. She can't even take time off from her other job to mourn her lost love. It would be too hard to explain, and even harder to understand.

Vega's performance is extraordinary and clearly the heart and muscle of the movie. Her rage and sorrow and frustration comes through, but even more amazing is her ability -- her sheer strength -- to just keep going. Director Lelio effortlessly finds an emotional center for Marina, and any audience with beating hearts should sympathize with her. He prepares a subtle, poetic visual scheme around her, appearing like cluttered realism, but actually carefully prepared, showing color patterns, medium and wide framing, reflections and mirroring, and music choices, all emotionally suggesting the inner life of this human being. A Fantastic Woman is a fantastic work.

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