Daniela Vega shines in the lead as she remains strong in the face of adversitySONY PICTURES CLASSICS

The sea can be at once both a turbulent beast, and calmly majestic in its serene beauty. It is a symbol of life, proclaimed by our heroine’s name, Marina, and she will remind us of that through every toss and turn. A Fantastic Woman opens with spraying water, and fades into the heat of a sauna named ‘Finlandia’. Like Sibelius’s tone poem, it is the setting of a great internal struggle, but is ultimately resolved with the tranquillity of a hymn.

It is unfortunate that Marina is forced to remind people of her name so often. We see her misnamed and deadnamed, casual transphobia cutting like a knife. The harrowing nature of these verbal attacks reveal the power of words, most people she meets unhesitant in their acceptance – of course, because Daniela Vega exudes such innate femininity those who do not respect her humanity appear intentionally malicious. Unlike the quivering cis performance of Eddie Redmayne in that most despicable of films, The Danish Girl, the assaults strike hard and fierce, alack for a somewhat less mainstream audience.

“Marina flows through the sun-drenched streets of Santiago”

The plot initially appears to be a dual one, as the prejudice Marina is subjected to stems largely from her relationship with an older man, Onetto. By opening with the couple on a date, director Sebastián Lelio provides breathing space for us to look past age difference and observe the genuine love between them. The tide turns quickly, however, and their romantic evening is cut short by Onetto’s death, setting the remainder of the film to tackle his vulgar relatives. Aside from the gentle Gabo, who in her frustration and bereavement Marina largely resists, their response allows for a meditation on fears of fetishisation and perversion grossly unfounded.

Onetto’s ex-wife Sonia is the matriarch of this circle of hate, obsessed with her self-perceived normality. She spits it at Marina, shared with her daughters who burst into tears at the sight of her. Lelio refuses to let the audience to look away, however, the camera closing in to allow deep inspection of every detail of her expression. Marina is on the surface a stoic woman steadfast in her movements, never publicly permitting herself to appear vulnerable. Instead she turns in on herself, crying in a lavatory cubicle or beating a punch-bag, eventually seeking release in the confines of a nightclub.

Trailer for A Fantastic WomanYOUTUBE

When the world appears her enemy, at last she finds solace in the arms of a loving sister, familial support transcending discrimination. All this is communicated by Vega without the need of dialogue, delivering a tremendous performance that puts most of this year’s Oscar contenders to shame.


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Normality, whatever that may be, is staunchly rejected, developing into an exceptional artist. As Marina flows through the sun-drenched streets of Santiago, riffs of an aria are fleetingly heard, finally projected in the climactic performance. She faces the unimaginable on her way there, a forensic examination overseen by a sadistic social worker and a forced removal of identity that will set the heart pounding with abject fear.

As Marina experiences her nightmares, so too does she soar into flights of fantasy - a show-stopping dance number, a giant trembling mirror, battling the winds of change. All is shot with an exquisite tenderness by Benjamin Echazarreta, combining with Matthew Herbert’s delicate flute motif to elevate A Fantastic Woman to a higher cinematic pedestal.

Much has been made of comparisons to Pedro Almodóvar, which largely seem unjustified. While his The Skin I Live In may end with a more poignant message of trans identity, it is a work of pure fiction that plays to sexualisation as a tool for criticism. By contrast, Lelio has made his picture profoundly realistic, shooting the everyday during an episode of tragedy in the life of an ordinary woman who proves understatedly extraordinary. Passing the viewer by in the haze of a dream, Vega has declared herself indisputably fantastic