Foreign films! The ultimate compromise of reading, but not having to use my own imagination. For the win, bitches!
Technically a 2017 release, I just noticed that it was in one my local theaters. I can’t exactly attest to how long it’s been there, so I’m just going to chock this up as a late review. I’ve seen the trailer a few times a few months ago, but I personal issues prevented me from doing a whole lot of movie-watching. I assumed I missed out on this, but isn’t this an Oscar contender? Oh well, gotta make time as it does look pretty good.
The story looks like it’s about this woman who is a singer and was in a relationship with a much older man. But then he passes away and is likely a story about grief and possibly about her being there at his wake and funeral… with some trippy visuals to boot. Curious to see how those tie into the film.
Here’s the cast. Starring we have a bunch of unknowns, but the core cast that I can pick out are Daniela Vega (THE GUEST / LA VISITA ) and Francisco Reyes (a whole ton for foreign films I’ve never heard of).
Now for the crew. As I won’t (likely) be familiar with anyone’s work, I’m just going to credit them as usual without referencing their previous credits. Directing and co-writing is Sebastián Lelio. His partner-in-pen is Gonzalo Maza. Co-composing the score are Nani García and Matthew Herbert. The cinematographer is Benjamín Echazarreta. Finally, the editor is Soledad Salfate.
What can I say? It looks like it’s gonna be good, time to see if it actually is.
This is my honest opinion of: UNA MUJER FANTÁSTICA / A FANTASTIC WOMAN
Marina Vidal (Daniela Vega) is a transgender woman. She works as a server in a restaurant and sings on the side. She is also in love with Orlando Onetto (Francisco Reyes), a man much older than her. They have a happy relationship until one night he falls ill. Despite getting him to the hospital in a timely fashion, Orlando unfortunately passes away. What follows is the backlash from his closed-minded and bigoted family that disapprove of Marina being a transgender, slowly trying to take away the things that Orlando gave her, from the apartment she moved into and the dog she loves, to even simply going to Orlando’s wake and funeral.
Um… oh boy, am I going to get stoned to death for this. But… here we go.
If I had to pick one thing that brings the story down a little is that it doesn’t feel like it’s a movie I haven’t seen before. I may not have seen TANGERINE (2015), but I fell in love with THE DANISH GIRL (2015) and I feel like if there was ever a movie that really wanted to convey a sense of prejudice and segregation, this felt a bit bigger. It was set in the 1920’s and 30’s, at the bare bottom of what exactly being a transgender meant, where it was still widely considered a disease to think that one was born the wrong gender. It felt like a real slice of history being made when the procedure was still new and not entirely certain. Now don’t get me wrong, intolerance is still a huge issue towards transgenders and I’ll never dispute the outrage that is. But I feel like this is a story that feels like it would play out the way it plays out. Of course there’s going to be assholes who’ll call her a faggot and attack her. Of course there’s going to be someone who says that she’s an abomination. These are the beats we expect in stories about every victim of prejudice; transgenders, gays, ethnic groups, foreigners, the handicapped, it feels like this is the only dramatic struggle they… well, struggle with and it’s starting to get done to death. Surly there’s other avenues to shed light on other than the opinions of the small-minded. Aren’t these procedures a risk? Aren’t there health backlashes? Hey, I never said I was an expert, but I feel like it’s a cold day in Hell when we see a dramatic movie about a transgender and all we’d have to do to predict the story is: “They’re going to get beaten up at some point and have to stand up for themselves.”
It also doesn’t really help matters that Marina isn’t a very interesting character. Don’t get me wrong, Vega is actually a really good actress. There’s certainly a rawness that she brings that Eddie Redmayne could never capture when being told how abnormal she is. You feel every square inch of her anger and pain and not once feels like she’s acting. Having said that, Marina just feels a little too passive. I know, I’m pretty sure I know what the filmmakers were going for here. The bigots can be as aggressive as they want with their insults and physical bodily harm, but no transgender needs to stoop to that level to combat it. They likely wanted to convey a sense of quiet, elegant resistance. Noble, and quite possibly a worthy goal. And I suppose if you’re going to go that route, no movie is ever really going to do better than this, but I feel like there’s still a more… aggressive approach to standing up for oneself without resorting to petty insults and throwing punches. Just something more than a submissive, “It’s okay; that’s how you feel.”
Some story elements didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. For one thing, why did Marina run away from the hospital after Orlando died? I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it looked more like she was running like you would to catch a door that’s about to close, rather than a scared person trying to run away from trauma. It wasn’t until Marina was brought back to the hospital by the police that I realized that she was running away at all. Also, why is this cop so convinced that Marina’s relationship with Orlando was abusive? Okay, fine, he was bruised because he fell down the stairs. Still, why is the immediate response “abuse”? Wouldn’t proper detective work involve looking at the wounds and the doctor, or otherwise an expert in this field, be able to determine “consistencies” and be able to tell what exactly the causes of the bruises would be after a thorough investigation? I don’t think real cops would jump the gun like that, even if there’s supposed to be an undercurrent of segregation toward Marina. And as horrifying as that scene is when Bruno (Nicolás Saavedra) and his thugs rip Marina off the street to tape up her face to make her look like the monster they think she is, why doesn’t Marina call the police? Fine, her experiences with the other cop is bad, but surly that lady isn’t the only officer in Chile. I’m no expert in Chilean laws, but one would think there’s still basic laws like, “no kidnapping,” and “no sexual harassment or assault.” Basic principal of assault is to inform the police of the actions and hope that justice prevails. Who gives a shit if the dude is the son of your lover? Assault is assault. Make some attempt at a proper response.
And is it just me, or did the score feel off at times too? I don’t know, I remember some scenes where something dramatic is supposed to be happening, but the score being played feels like it would be more appropriate for a screwball comedy. I can’t remember the scene in question, but I think Marina was standing in the hallway of an apartment, whether it was hers or someone else’s, I honestly can’t recall. But I do remember the score being… odd sometimes.
So, what, do I hate this movie? Am I saying it’s bad simply because I’ve seen its story beats before? No. Not even close.
What ultimately carries the film through is Vega and her incredibly nuanced performance. And when she isn’t being nuanced, she just feels real. The quiet scenes, the spells of no dialog, it’s a compelling performance to say the least. But more refreshing is the use of nudity. Well, to be fair, DANISH GIRL did a good job with it too, but here it feels so much more… powerful. Like, every scene where Marina is topless, it’s like she’s a target for observation, or judgment, or some kind of subtle attack. There’s a really creepy scene where Marina meets up with a cop that was investigating Orlando’s death and brought her in to a doctor’s office or something to make sure that she didn’t suffer abuse during her relationship. As she’s changing into her hospital gown, her doctor in question has to take pictures of her body to confirm that she doesn’t have any injuries. But, Christ, your skin crawls and you get sick to your stomach when Marina’s gown is pulled down, revealing her body, and he’s taking his pictures, and barely a minute later has the temerity to say, “Can I get a moment alone with the patient,” or something to that effect. Thankfully, the cop says no right away with the most subtle hint of ire, but the fact that he made the request was just… ew.
I know that’s not a whole lot of positive reinforcement, and ultimately, the best thing I’ve said about the movie is how the nudity was handled. Probably not a good sign. Still, I don’t think the movie is bad by any means. In fact, I think this movie is worth seeing. But I don’t think I see myself seeing it more than once. It hits all the chords a movie like this would hit, some odd character choices, and confusion with the plot. Having said that, what holds the movie together phenomenally well is Vega. She’s impressive for being only in her second big screen appearance, and likely her first starring role. But as a whole package… it’s not bad. I still recommend it as movies that touch upon these subjects are important and deserve support, and this one’s no different. I think the story and protagonist could have been stronger, but it’s still a worthwhile viewing. A FANTASTIC WOMAN is kind of an average film.
My honest rating for A FANTASTIC WOMAN: 3/5