Sebastián Lelio’s 2017 melodrama A Fantastic Woman allows Daniela Vega to shine in a story of loss, grief and self-identity, leaving little doubt that she is a true talent.
When Marina’s boyfriend Orlando (Francisco Reyes) die suddenly on the night of her birthday, her life is turned upside down in a matter of minutes. One moment she is celebrating in a restaurant, the next she is unmoored and alone in the clinical halls of the hospital.
Due to the suddenness of Orlando’s death, the injuries presented when he was admitted, and Marina’s identity as a transwoman – she is immediately treated as a suspect. While the police are barely concealing their transphobia in their questioning of her actions, and the family hold her responsible for Orlando’s death, despite the ruling of a brain aneurysm, her grief is mistake for coldness. When she runs from the hospital, consumed and disorientated by the loss, she is soon picked up by a police car and yet another black mark is put against her name.
A vacuum opens up and the outside comes rushing in. Orlando’s family, who have been kept at bay by her presence are now emboldened to make their intentions known and restore their “rightful” spaces in Orlando’s memories. Prior his death, it is indicated the relationship between Orlando and his family had cooled significantly – no reason is given, although it is indicated that they blame Marina for this – there are no significant photos of them in his home or office. Now emboldened by his absence, they come for what they feel is rightfully theirs.
Orlando’s ex-wife Sonia (Aline Küppenheim) demands his car be returned to her with a calculated bit that betrays her portrayal of grief, and bans her from attending the wake and the funeral, while his son Bruno (Nicolás Saavedra) is more brazen, all but physically removing Marina from the apartment she shared with Orlando while slinging insults and snide remarks about her gender.
Not only is Marina banished from the home she shared with her lover, she is left without closure. A key that she finds in the footwell of Orlando’s car is a talisman for the desperate search for answers that comes with bereavement, that will often never be revealed.
The camera watches Marina, quietly and without judgment as she navigates her grief and her anger, Vega’s portrayal of a woman in mourning is heart-breakingly accurate – the world moves on, customers demand bills and water and attention, unaware of the devastation she is coming to terms with. Vega’s performance is one of stillness, the camera lingers on her face as tears prick the corner of her eyes and her mouth droops as she attempts to remain composed on packed bus. It’s hard to not grieve yourself, as she sees visions of Orlando in a nightclub or in the backseat of the car, just waiting and watching silently, just out of reach.
Captivating and emotional, Lelio’s second film captures the manifestations of grief as an experience is physically felt, and while Marina’s grief is componded by the prejudice of those around her, she is allowed to find and develop another side of herself that she perhaps never knew exsisted.