(The following review includes spoilers)
This year’s line up for Istanbul FilmEkimi (October Of Film), organised by Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV), had many films with LGBT themes and characters, including Sebastián Leio’s A Fantastic Woman. The film tells the story of Marina, a transgender woman brought to screen by the impeccable performance of Daniela Vega, whose older boyfriend Orlando (Francisco Reyes) dies because of a aneurysm shorty after the film starts. After his death, we are taken on a journey of Marina dealing with getting treated as a suspect by authorities and as a shame by Orlando’s family. Marina can hardly find time to grieve her boyfriend when she is faced with accusations, insults and physical attacks by almost everyone for things she didn’t do or had no control over. The struggles, of course, come from people’s perception of who she is, based on her sexuality.
There is a scene in the film in which Marina is lying naked on the couch, with a mirror covering her genitals. The mirror catches Marina’s face, looking at the place where society’s judgement against her rests. The scene plays as a metaphor for the film, what lies – or doesn’t lie – between your legs is what you are in the eyes of others. The mirror not only reflects Marina’s face back to her, but in the eyes of society, what the mirror is covering reflects who she is. Our genitals determine who we are, how we are seen and perceived by the others, and in the case of Marina and thousands of trans people, when someone doesn’t fit into the norms of society, they are deserving of being treated inhumanely. People’s perception of Marina’s gender is what puts her in the category of murder suspect, when the treatment she deserves is the one of a grieving girlfriend.
“I don’t know what you are,” says Bruno, Orlando’s son, to Marina, who he kicks out of his father’s house. He then attacks her verbally and physically with his friends to show Marina her place in their eyes. Bruno’s mother and Orlando’s ex wife makes a similar statement: “I don’t know what I’m seeing,” and forbids Marina from coming to Orlando’s funeral. She then insults Marina when she attends. Their statements point to where their transphobia lies – not knowing. They cannot categorise Marina within their norms and, as the saying goes, what they don’t know they fear. Their fear expresses itself in confusion first and violence later when Marina refuses to go by their rules. In his Guardian review of the film Ryan Gilbey, points out how some of the characters physically resemble each other. Amongst these look-alike people, Marina continues to be different and, as happens in a beautifully shot scene, keeps fighting against the strong wind.
Despite the tragic experiences Marina goes through, the film gives it’s audience, and Marina, a much hoped for happy ending of sorts. She takes her revenge in her own way, by jumping on Orlando’s family’s car where they’re trapped under her strength. In the finale we see her as we first did through Orlando’s eyes, singing, but this time she isn’t singing in some bar. Instead she takes the centre of a big stage, singing a piece worthy of her talent.
Leio’s direction and framing is amazingly done. He shows Marina on the screen in a way that makes the character stand out and shine amongst other characters. Daniela Vega is absolutely phenomenal in her first big role. It’s a nuanced and powerful performance that deserves to be included in contention for every major award, including the Oscar, which would make her the first openly transgender actress to be nominated.
‘A Fantastic Woman’ will be released in the US on the 2nd of February 2018, and in the UK on the 2nd of March 2018. Tweet me your thoughts at @muchadocinema or @marioncotilards, or comment below!