Review: ‘A Fantastic Woman’ tells story of strength

Nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, ‘Fantastic’ lives up to its billing

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Daniela Vega is quietly shattering in “A Fantastic Woman,” a subtle, timely film that takes on complex issues of love, loss and gender identity.

Vega plays Marina, a transgender woman living in Santiago, Chile. Marina is dating Orlando (Francisco Reyes), an older divorcee in his late 50s, who without warning collapses one night after suffering a brain aneurysm. After a nasty tumble down a flight of stairs, Orlando dies on the operating table, leaving Marina to pick up the pieces of their relationship and move forward.

She faces opposition everywhere she goes. An investigator from the sex crimes unit demeans Marina by conducting an embarrassing investigation of her. Orlando’s family is openly hostile toward her, ashamed of his relationship with her, labeling her a “chimera” and shooing her away from the burial. She’s given no outlet to mourn or grieve, emotions the world deems her not worthy to feel.

But Marina is no lilting flower. She keeps her poise and composure throughout, putting on a brave face for the world, even as she is devastated inside. Co-writer and director Sebastián Lelio (“Gloria”) doesn’t need to paint the backstory of Marina’s character, because it’s all there in Vega’s face: she is a study in confidence, self-control and dignity. She’s taken years of abuse, absorbed it and risen above it, because she has had to in order to survive.

“A Fantastic Woman,” which is nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars, is a compassionate film about tolerance, acceptance and understanding. Fantastic is one word for it, another would be outstanding.


‘A Fantastic Woman’


Rated R for language, sexual content, nudity and a disturbing assault

Running time: 104 minutes