Starring: Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco
Director: Sebastián Lelio
Running Time: 104 mins
A Fantastic Woman (Una mujer fantástica) is a Chilean film about a transgender woman who struggles in the aftermath of the death of her boyfriend as she faces prejudice and suspicion from the man’s family.
This is an absolutely riveting film that works its magic thanks to a very well-written, emotionally charged and consistent screenplay, furthered by an excellent central performance from Daniela Vega, and a strong atmosphere of drama throughout, creating a vibe that will easily have you taken aback by some of the injustice and prejudice witnessed by this woman.
Let’s start off on that note, because the way that the film depicts subtle prejudices against this transgender woman is by far the most riveting element of the story. This isn’t an issue that’s really been touched on in a modern context by many Hollywood dramas, and that’s possibly because it’s still fairly thorny given the contemporary nature, however what A Fantastic Woman does so well is place it squarely and firmly in a modern context, yet doesn’t ever go overboard with an excessively melodramatic or preachy portrayal of prejudice.
As a result, I was fully engrossed by the story of a woman facing all sorts of hate while trying to go about her daily life, but what’s most interesting about it is that the majority of the prejudice depicted is a lot more subtle than what many films depicting issues like racism are. Although there are a few truly shocking moments where we see just how nasty some people can be for no good reason, the most powerful scenes of the film come from where we see this woman encounter normal, good-natured people who, possibly out of nothing more than curiosity or a lack of understanding, end up being very rude in her direction.
For me, that sort of depiction of prejudice felt like a real breath of fresh air, as rather than focusing on outright aggressive people (a small minority in the real world), the film takes a look at how so many normal people could fall foul to themselves being a little prejudiced. It’s not a level of phobia that creates true horror in the woman’s life, but the constant string of small, subtle prejudice that she does suffer builds up strongly throughout, adding to a real sense of frustration that I found absolutely enthralling.
However, what I liked even more about this film was that it managed to develop its own riveting story beyond its commentary on social issues. As well as depicting prejudice, there’s somewhat of a mystery-crime element to the story, as we follow the woman trying to take part in the grieving for her boyfriend, but being shut out by his family as they (while also being repulsed and embarrassed by the fact that she is transgender) suspect her of having played a part in the man’s death, and are as such very touchy when discussions come to who his possessions are to be left to.
So, as well as being a fascinating and charged social drama, the film is a riveting watch all on its own, and as we see the frustration and difficulty build up in this woman’s life as things go from bad to worse, it makes for a truly captivating watch, and one that will easily stand up well on its own in years to come even when the central theme isn’t quite as charged as it is today.
Another big plus from A Fantastic Woman comes from the performance by the very woman at the centre of the film, Daniela Vega. Throughout, she gives a performance that perfectly matches her character’s deep-set feelings of frustration with the constant prejudice that she encounters, all the while still managing to show that the character is still full of heart and good will as she attempts to find a way to say goodbye to the man she loved, despite all of the opposition to her doing just that. Matching the film’s very serious and dramatic atmosphere excellently, hers is a really strong performance that dominates absolutely every scene, and creates a fascinating central character in the middle of an enthralling story.
Overall, I really liked this movie, but that doesn’t mean that it’s completely flawless. While I was impressed by its emotionally charged depiction of prejudice, I felt that that was something that came good more towards the end of the film, with the opening act not quite managing to offer a fully clear run into the central theme.
The biggest problem with the opening act is that it’s not immediately clear what the main reason for all the people treating this woman so badly is. At first, there’s no explicit indication that she’s a transgender woman, and the opening act often seems to lean on the fact that there are suspicions she’s a gold digger more so than the fact she is transgender, which left me a little confused as to what line of thought to really focus on early on.
In the end, however, A Fantastic Woman is still a fantastic film. Riveting, emotionally powerful and well-written throughout, it’s a very contemporary and well-balanced social drama that portrays everyday prejudice in a way that’s both more down-to-earth and more effective than similar films of the genre, while the central performance from Daniela Vega means our central character is absolutely fantastic indeed, and that’s why I’m giving this a 7.9.