“A Fantastic Woman” makes the heroine’s transgender experience almost incidental to the tragic love story

Sebastian Lelio’s dramatic mystery “A Fantastic Woman” (2017, “Una mujer fantastica”, Chile, in Spanish with subtitles) is up for best foreign language film, and indeed it will keep you from lounging back into your seat.  The story works even if Maria is a cis female woman.  This time, we’ll, maybe “he’s a boy” still.

Orlando (Francisco Reyes), owner of a clothing company (although not of the “Phantom Thread” couture) and apparently separated from his wife, meets the singer Maria (Daniela Vega) at a nightclub. Soon she is moving in.

You’re not quite sure what Orlando likes. They undress, and the film is ambiguous as to what Orlando “knows” before sex.  But in the middle of the night, with her in bed, he becomes ill. He tries to walk and falls down the stairs. Marina drives him to the hospital, where he soon dies of an aneurysm (not clear if it is brain or aortic). The hospital staff and then detectives treat her badly, as is she might be a suspect for his going down the stairs. And his family doesn’t want her around, like for the funeral. Only the dog, Diabla, understands her and she scheme to keep her. Animals (and this include cats) know a lot more about us than we realize.

There is a scene where the police force her to undergo a physical examination. Her chest is more muscle than breast, and there is a faint visual hint of past waxing or laser work in the middle. You don’t really see if the sexual reassignment is complete. But you come away with thinking Orlando must have been passionate about her, even if he didn’t “know” when he took her home. He seems to have remained fully heterosexual.

The film opens with a shot of Iguazu Falls, between Brazil and Argentina; but the possibility of a honeymoon there plays only a minor role in the story.

The film is shot widescreen and is extremely well photographed, with many impressive shots of Santiago as well as the Falls.

The music score, composed by Nani Garcia and Matthew Herbert, offered a lot of feathery impressionistic passage work for a chamber group. In a final scene, Marina returns to singing, this time the moving Largo from Handel’s Xerxes.

There was an episode in the ABC series “Mistresses” in 2016 where a woman says to a transgender man, “I would never date a trans person” and the man orders her out.

Santiago scene, wiki

Iguazu Falls, wiki.

Name:  “A Fantastic Woman”
Director, writer:  Sebastian Lelio
Released:  2017   (Spanish)
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Alamo Drafthouse, One Loudoun, 2019/2/11
Length:  100
Rating:  R
Companies:  Sony Pictures Classics
Link:  official 
Stars:  4/5  ****-

(Posted: Monday, February 12, 2018 at 9:30 PM EST)

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