Winner of the 2018 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, A Fantastic Woman is pretty fantastic, but is also on the cutting edge of changes in society, as it is about a transgender woman, starring a transgender woman.
From Chile, it concerns Marina (Daniela Vega) a waitress and singer, who has moved in with an older man (Francisco Reyes). He is fully aware of her past, but they have a sweet relationship. He takes her out for her birthday, they tie one on, and go home to bed.
But he awakes in the middle of the night feeling strange, and will die of a brain aneurysm. Vega is not technically family, so is pushed aside by his ex-wife and son, who state in no uncertain terms that she is not to attend the memorial or funeral, and to leave them alone.
This echoes a problem that longtime partners had in the U.S. before recent court decisions–someone who had been with someone for fifty years or more couldn’t make health decisions, requiring a family member who may have been estranged for years. As far as we have come in recent years, there is still a long way to go, as evidenced by bathroom laws in North Carolina and this film, which shows a shocking level of ignorance about transgender people (she is assaulted by her lover’s son’s friends, calling her a “faggot.”)
More than that, A Fantastic Woman is about identity, and how much we invest in sexual parts to define who someone is. Vega is often seen looking into reflective surfaces, and in one striking moment is naked in bed, a mirror between her legs. In another clever scene, she must masquerade as a man to get into Reyes’ gym so she can open his locker. She was born a man, but her awkwardness pretending to be one is palpable.
A Fantastic Woman was directed by Sebastian Lelio with some restraint. Vega, a nonprofessional actor, brings the qualities that sometimes only amateurs can bring, as at no point do we see overacting–we just see truth. This is a very fine film. I haven’t seen all five nominees yet but I’m fine with this one winning.