Here's a movie that not nearly enough people are going to see.
Being transgender isn’t easy. It has never been, and while society has made certain steps into acceptance in the last couple of years, we certainly haven’t evened the playing fields out yet. That’s what A Fantastic Woman, winner of Best Foreign Film at this year’s Academy Awards, reminds us of.
A Chilean film from writer and director Sebastián Lelio, A Fantastic Woman is a sad, troubling tale of how hard it can be for transgender people to fight for basic human rights.
Orlando (Francisco Reyes) is not transgender. He’s a 57-year-old man who has lived a relatively full and complete life. He’s done it all — marriage. kids. job. divorce. Then there was the fallout. The falling in love with Marina Vidal (Daniela Vega), who is transgender. The shaming from his family. The aneurysm and the emergency trip to the hospital. You know, the normal stuff all of us go through.
This story, however, is actually about Marina and her struggle to be accepted by those around her.
Orlando’s aneurysm leads to his death (it’s not a spoiler, it happens within the first ten minutes). Marina, who has only ever loved Orlando, is now alone. Alone except for the dog Orlando left her, that is.
Then there’s Orlando’s family — some of the worst people you can probably imagine. They didn’t accept Orlando’s decision to move in with someone who is transgender. It comes from a place of misunderstanding and fear, of course, but they naturally judge such a lifestyle and treat all those as lesser than.
Now that Orlando is deceased, the entire family is looking to completely wipe out Marina from ever having any interaction with any of them. She’s getting kicked out of the apartment the two shared, she’s not invited to attend the funeral or the wake and she doesn’t even get mentioned in Orlando’s obituary. It’s like she never even existed, even though she was the most important part of Orlando’s life in his later years.
To make matters worse, there’s the whole investigation surrounding his death. When Orlando had his aneurysm, he took a pretty nasty tumble down a staircase. Due to the wounds, it opened up an investigation and since Marina was the only one there at the time it means that she’s the key witness.
It’s not that the cops think Marina had anything to do with Orlando’s death, just the opposite. They’re worried that the two of them were victims of some sort of hate crime. While that might sound good intentioned on their part, they force Marina to undergo several medical procedures and meetings just to make sure she had no involvement whatsoever — even though this was nothing more than a simple disease.
In that, A Fantastic Woman is an important look at the challenges one faces when being transgender, done in a sort of a reverse romantic comedy way. Most romantic comedies see characters start out with something they need to overcome, only to find love and then realize none of their problems matter any longer because as long as they have this one person everything else will be alright.
A Fantastic Woman starts off with that kind of ending. Marina and Orlando are in love, determined to let nothing stand in the way of that. After Orlando dies, however, Marina is forced to face all the problems that she had tried to bury. She can’t hide behind romance anymore — the world is now seeing her, as she really is, for the first time, which can be unsettling and unpleasant to watch, because the world, as we very well know, is full of monsters.
What’s important about A Fantastic Woman though is that Sebastián Lelio doesn’t try to paint Marina as a saint. She is fighting for the right to be recognized as a human being and, as we see clearly in this movie, human beings are pretty messed up. That means she’s fighting for the right to be allowed to mess up and mistakes, which we see her do several times in the movie. It’s not the fact that she makes the mistakes, it’s how much everyone judges her for it. She’s not pretending to be perfect (as many other films in the same genre would try to do), she just wants to be accepted.
Meaning A Fantastic Woman is a really important movie that more people should see. Of course, they won’t, because most Americans don’t seek out foreign movies since they have something against reading subtitles (which really aren’t that bad. You don’t even notice them after the first 10 minutes). Others will call this liberal propaganda, but the fact that there’s a story, characterization and some really cool filmmaking tricks (the film will sometimes enter into an imaginary dream-like state, which is breathtaking every single time it does so) would prove otherwise.
Seek this one out — even if it doesn’t seem like you’re kind of movie, give it a try. You might just learn something.
Watch the trailer here and then let us know, in the comments below, did you see A Fantastic Woman? Are you going to? What did you think of the movie? Do you know of any other great films from Chile that I should check out - I’m always willing to watch something new!
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