Saturday, February 3, 2018

Sebastián Lelio's A FANTASTIC WOMAN opens -- it's the transgender movie that's a keeper

If the name Sebastián Lelio (the filmmaker is shown below) rings a bell, it may be due to his excellent film of a few years back entitled Gloria, all about an "older" woman who was as thrilling, memorable and alive as any female character we'd seen in a long while. Señor Lelio returns now with a movie that has already garnered a nomination for this year's Best Foreign Language Film, and although my vote, had I one, would go to The Insult, I wouldn't mind at all if A FANTASTIC WOMAN took the prize. Nor would I if the award goes to The Square. All three are top-notch examples of international movie-making at its best. (I have not yet seen the other two nominees: Loveless, On Body and Soul.)

This talented and highly empathetic director and co-writer (with Gonzalo Maza) first allows us to meet and spend just a short time with his two protagonists, Marina and Orlando, plated respectively by Daniela Vega (below, left) and Francisco Reyes (at right with Vega, in photo at bottom), before a sudden event occurs that leaves us (and the film) with only one -- with the life of that one pulled quickly and entirely from under her.

The how and why of all this is due to the fact that Marina is a male transgender on her way to becoming fully (or as fully as possible) female. This was clearly just fine for Orlando, but it is anything but that for his surviving family, including his ex-wife (Aline Küppenheim, shown at right, below) and son (Nicolás Saavedra, at right, two photos below).

Orlando's brother Gabo (Luis Gnecco, below, left) is kinder and more understanding yet still rather ineffectual, so Marina must somehow make her way through a society that rather shows some of our own red-state cretins as not too dissimilar.

These would include the local police (below, with Marina) and even a supposedly sympathetic female investigating officer (Amparo Noguera, at left, with doctor and Marina, two photos below), who seems to have made up her mind as to what happened and why due to her own history of aiding prostitutes and the transgendered rather than to the specifics of this particular case.

Ms Vega's performance as Marina has been rightly lauded. This actress possesses an innate understanding of this kind of situation, while playing her emotions so close to the vest that she could win Molly's Game ten times over. The actress brings such a strong sense of her own inviolability and strength to the film that despite some pretty awful situations, her dignity remains intact. This makes the fact of our rooting for her so strongly rise above some merely feel-good experience.

Leilo doesn't pile on the negativity, either. He rather seems to simply show a society in which this situation is so unusual and frightening to the "normal" crowd that citizens resort to the only kind of behavior they know and are comfortable with. How discomforting it is to Marina (and the viewer) is another matter.

That our girl gets through it all -- using focus, fantasy, determination and more -- makes for a pretty wondrous movie experience. Of all the films about transgenders I've so far seen (and some of these have been quite good), A Fantastic Woman is still the best. I think it will have a long life as both a breakthrough movie and as a fine example of its own special genre.

From Sony Pictures Classics, in Spanish with English subtitles and running 104 minutes, the film, opening in our larger cultural centers last week, hits South Florida this coming Friday, February 9, in the Miami area at the O Cinema Miami Beach, at the Coral Gables Art Cinema, and in Fort Lauderdale at the Classic Gateway 4. Click here then scroll down to see all upcoming playdates, cities and theaters. 

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