VIFF Review: ‘A Fantastic Woman’ is a beautiful, important movie

An older man, Orlando, spends a day at a spa and then heads to a night club to see a woman sing. She is his girlfriend Marina, and they are very much in love. After the performance he takes her to dinner, and later at home they make love against the floor to ceiling windows of their shared apartment. Later that night he falls ill and they rush to a hospital where he dies and she is immediately treated like a criminal. Not, however because of the bruises on his torso and the impact wound on his head he obtained from falling down the stairs on their way to the car, but because she is transgendered.

The rest of A Fantastic Woman follows Marina as she copes with not only losing the love of her life but also coping with the prejudices of the the doctors, the police, and the bulk of her lovers family. It’s not the easiest watch but it’s vital one.

A Fantastic Woman is the screen debut for Daniela Vega and I think her casting here is important. So often in Hollywood when they write a trans character they cast someone with that characters birth sex. If they need a woman they cast a man and put him in a wig and a dress. I’m sure it sells tickets but by casting Vega, herself a transgendered person, the film gains a lifetime of experience dealing with the low key –and decidedly high key– hostility that Marina faces in the film.

Never is this more clear than in the scenes where she is free to be herself, whether that’s with her dog or with her father figure character, there are only a few moments in the film where she looks truly relaxed and she’s almost always alone in them. The rest of the run time she is faced with her Orlando’s ex-wife calling not letting her attend the memorial services, or a police woman who professes that she is supportive of Marina’s situation but then insists on her being subjected to a humiliating physical examination anyway, or being outright assaulted by members of Orlando’s family.

Much of what Marina goes through is difficult to watch but you can tell she’s used to it. She knows when to stick her head up and when to keep it down, and weighs every situation to see if it’s worth fighting back even a little bit. Through all the indignities she remains stalwart and hopeful and ultimately this exposes how lazy and small minded bigotry can be.

A Fantastic Woman is a great film by almost any measure, and one you should endeavour to see.