A Fantastic Woman

Review by Hannah Woodhead @goodjobliz

Directed by

Sebastián Lelio


Daniela Vega Francisco Reyes Luis Gnecco


Sebastián Lelio’s last effort, Gloria, was very good.


Keeps you waiting for a moment that never comes.

In Retrospect.

Daniela Vega is a delight.

A star is born in Sebastián Lelio’s drama about a trans woman coming to terms with the death of her partner.

Credit where credit’s due: in making A Fantastic Woman, director Sebastián Lelio has given audiences a gift. It’s not so much the director’s lilting, perfectly fine film that one should be grateful for, but rather the discovery of Daniela Vega, who shines in a drama that relies heavily on her charisma and talent to make up for a curiously sparse plot.

Vega plays Marina, a young trans singer who is in a committed relationship with Orlando (Francisco Reyes), a man 30 years her senior. They have plans to build a life together which are abruptly cut short by his sudden illness, leaving Marina adrift in the world, forced to face the ire of her boyfriend’s disapproving family. It’s a story that has played out onscreen many times before with varying degrees of success, and Lelio’s script leaves a lot to be desired in this respect.

Aside from the characters of Marina – and to a lesser extent Orlando – there is little room for character development. The thoughts, fears and motivations of other characters are fairly one-note, with the revulsion of Orlando’s ex-wife and son towards Marina being limited to her being considerably younger than him and a trans woman. Only Orlando’s brother is shown as sympathetic towards Marina, but he is little more than a footnote.

The film would do well to explore these attitudes more than it does, but in presenting almost every single frame of the film from Marina’s perspective, there is little room to show anything but her internal struggle. As such, we watch as Marina goes about her daily drudgery in the wake of her lover’s death, attempting to piece her life back together. She’s played with an enchanting sense of restrained vulnerability, publicly put-together but privately falling apart. She struggles to reconcile the man she loved with the family he had, particularly their hostility towards her, threatened by a perceived danger she poses to the fabric of their family.

Lelio attempts to deal also with the injustices many trans people are subject to – in one tense scene, Vega is forced to strip naked by police officials who believe she was being abused by her partner, and she is frequently misgendered by other characters. This humiliation speaks to the real-life discrimination thousands of trans women and men face across the world every day.

A Fantastic Woman is a film on the cusp of greatness – Benjamín Echazarreta’s dreamy cinematography lends it an ethereal quality, as does Matthew Herbert’s flute-heavy score, capturing the way Marina’s spirit seeks to break free from the confines placed on it by society and Orlando’s family. Yet it’s hard to shake the feeling that something is missing.

The film starts off strong, and it is refreshing to see a trans woman portrayed as having a life beyond her trans identity. Such characters are lacking in cinema, and Lilio does make an attempt – as he did so successfully with 2013’s Gloria – to shine a light on an underrepresented community.

But subplots lead nowhere, and the film frequently threatens to fizzle out altogether. There is an unfinished quality to A Fantastic Woman that does a disservice to the undoubtedly interesting character at its centre, and its message (beyond preaching the tolerance that Marina never finds herself) is unclear. The solution seems evident – give the resources to trans filmmakers and screenwriters so that they might tell their own stories, rather than these being imagined through the lens of cis artists.

Published 27 Feb 2018

Tags: Daniela Vega Sebastián Lelio


Sebastián Lelio’s last effort, Gloria, was very good.


Keeps you waiting for a moment that never comes.

In Retrospect.

Daniela Vega is a delight.

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This burnished gem from Chile is a rich and poetic character study of a woman on the look out for love.

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