A Fantastic Woman
Stars: Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gneco, Aline Küppenheim
Shades of Hitchcock and Almodóvar in this gripping and empathetic character study from Chilean director Lelio. It starts like a classic thriller as we track fifty-something businessman Orlando (Reyes) as he visits a sauna, then frantically searches for papers, before meeting his younger glamorous lover, Marina (Vega), a transgender nightclub singer who also works as a waitress. When they return back to his apartment, following a birthday dinner, Orlando suffers a fatal aneurism and falls down the stairs. After calling Orlando’s brother from the hospital, Marina flees into the night. The police catch up with her and, suspecting foul play, the Sexual Offences Unit subject Marina to a humiliating examination. Later, even more woundingly, Orlando’s family, who consider Marina a gold-digging aberration, refuse to let her attend the funeral, and Orlando’s chilly imperious ex-wife Sonia (Küppenheim) attempts to pay Marina off to ensure she stays away. Like Lelio’s last film, middle-aged divorcee story Gloria, it’s a study of a beaten down character boldly re-asserting themselves as an individual. Vega, a real transgender actor, delivers a commendably self-contained performance as Marina, the character running the gamut from raw despair to euphoria, the latter manifested in a dreamlike sequence where Marina leads a dance routine in a glitzy disco. Out of respect for the character, the director supplies no fraught back story for Marina – we are required to take the character on her own terms and see her as she sees herself, hence the numerous shots of Marina gazing into a mirror. And the noirish score from British musician Matthew Herbert maintains a level of intrigue throughout.