A Fantastic Woman (Spanish, with English Subtitles); Director: Sebastian Lelio; Starring: Daniela Vega; Rating: **1/2 (2 and half stars)
"A Fantastic Woman" could have been penetrating portrait of a transgender woman's struggle for dignity after her middle-aged lover suddenly dies on her.
Marina (played with consummate sensitivity by Daniela Vega) never quite recovers from the traumatic shock. Neither does the film. It quickly goes downhill from the point of tragedy, building what looks like a shell-shocked narrative in-sync with the stupor that falls over Daniela's soul after Orlando (Francisco Reyes) passes away.
The ensuing trauma of a ‘woman' who is unacceptable to society for her gender and status in the life of the man she loved, is brought out like a dentist extracting rotten teeth. It is a graceless situation.And director Sebastian Lelio goes with the frown, rendering every crease in Daniela's disheveled existence in shades of black and fright.
Daniela's dilemma is so in-your-face, it hardly needed to be affirmed so strongly by the narrative. Her humiliation is shown in scenes in the hospital and at the police station. And we know what happens to the mistress specially when she is gender-challenged. But Marina's behaviour post the tragedy eschews empathy. She frets, fumes, snarls and at one point even jumps on to the car of her deceased lover's family to bounce up and down.
By this point the edgy narrative begins to look uneasily unfocused.
Perhaps Marina's unconventional methods of protest are a cultural things. Maybe in Chile, the conventions of bereavement are played out at a pitch that seems fairly bizarre to us. Also, the fact that the film is in Spanish makes the dialogue-heavy sequences, such as the one where Marina is confronted by Orlando's wife in a car basement, seems unnecessarily stretched-out and verbose.
"A Fantastic Woman" fails to carry us along in its protagonist's tough journey from bereavement to isolation to confrontation to settlement. Marina can't wait to get out of it.
Neither can we.