A Fantastic Woman

Mar 18, 2018

She's fantastic and different from Wonder Woman.

A  Fantastic Woman

Grade: A

Director:  Sebastian Lelio (Gloria)

Screenplay: Lelio, Gonzalo Maza (The Year of the Tiger)

Cast: Daniela Vega (The Guest), Francisco Reyes (The Club)

Rating: R

Runtime: 1 hr 40 min

by John DeSando

If you feel uncomfortable or just out of it with the transgender topic, make sure to see the remarkable 2018 Oscar winner for best foreign language film, A Fantastic Woman, to be au currant and edified about a love story than transcends transgender. If you’ve come to expect a measured study of character and social norms from foreign films, then see this Chilean Oscar winner.

Marina (Daniela Vega) is a waitress and moonlighting singer in love with an older man, Orlando (Francisco Reyes), who dies suddenly. While everyone knows or immediately guesses that she used to be a he, the rejection she experiences, from police who want to treat her like a criminal to his family, who can’t understand his eccentric love (“I don’t know what you are,” says Bruno, played by Nicolás Saavedra), we become quickly aware about the unique and authentic love that will be tested long after Orlando’s death.

You may sense the presence of Hitchcock’s female ambiguous-identity Vertigo (writer director Sebastian Lelio must respect that director, and Pedro Almodovar, whose love of women in his films is legendary). Whatever, A Fantastic Woman has the trappings of world cinema that explores identity and society in unusual ways.

Vega is a transgender and singer in real life whose performance is among the best of 2017.  She is responsible for your feeling comfortable about transgender and for seeing this as a strong statement about people who are different in society, people who violate the marriage vows for love, and the need for understanding and sympathy for those about whom we know so little.

Although Marina’s treatment by Orlando’s family occupies the central conflict, the soundtrack with multiple classical pieces elevates the crassness to operatic stature; the aria from Giacomelli’s Sposa son disprezzata speaks clearly of the abused wife in possibly the most blatant statement of support for Marina. Otherwise, the film sans advocacy lets you draw your own conclusions.

A Fantastic Woman lets you gently into transgender challenges without ever preaching to you. It is about love, fantastic or otherwise, in a great film.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at