Sony Pictures Classics
It’s hard to believe that a movie nominated for an Oscar might be considered “Under the Radar” but anyone who read my piece on the Foreign Language Oscars back in December will already know how hard it is for foreign language films to make much of a mark against the number of American films released each weekend.
Chile hasn’t made a ton of waves on America shores over the years other than the films of Pablo Larraín like Neruda and No, the latter an Oscar nominee. Larraín also produced Sebastián Lelio’s 2013 movie Gloria, as well as his latest film A FANTASTIC WOMAN, also nominated for an Oscar.
Lelio is already making in-roads into Hollywood with another English-language movie coming out later this year called Disobedience, starring Rachels Weisz and Rachel McAdams, and he’s also filming an English-language remake of his earlier film Gloria with Julianne Moore in the title role.
But today, I really want to talk about A Fantastic Woman, because Oscar nominations aside, it’s exceedingly hard to convince American moviegoers to venture out to see a Spanish-language film set in Chile. Sadly, it might be even tougher to convince them to see a movie about a trans woman played by an unknown 28-year-old actress and singer named Daniela Vega, a name you’ll definitely want to take note of.
Marina has been in a long-time relationship with a man named Orlando (popular Chilean actor Francisco Reyes, who has appeared in two of Larrain’s previous films). Orlando suddenly dies one night leaving Marina to try to figure out how to deal with her grief over his death while living in a world that has a built-in prejudice towards trans people. Marina is humiliated and degraded by those who work at the hospital and by the police, who thinks Marina might have been in an abusive relationship with Orlando, but she’s treated even worse by Orlando’s ex-wife and kids, who want to remove any knowledge of Marina’s existence and her relationship with Orlando. They just want her out of Orlando’s apartment, and they won’t even let her attend Orlando’s funeral.
At one point, Orlando’s son and friends physically assault Marina and dump her in an alley when she shows up at the funeral, and it’s absolutely horrifying and surreal to see her be treated this way. She’s then forced to do some detective work to get some justice, which involves an awkward moment visiting a men’s sauna.
I have never seen a film quite like A Fantastic Woman and you probably haven’t either, but it’s hard not to think of some of Pedro Almodova’s best films in terms of character development and interactions, and the beauty in which Lelio tells this story. A Fantastic Woman plays even better a second time as you get to rewatch scenes that maybe didn’t click or connect the first time but have a much larger impact on second viewing. Lelio’s film is incredibly powerful and important to show the prejudice and hatred that trans people are still having to endure 18 years into the 21st Century. Knowing this, makes the movie a tough but worthwhile watch, especially in the beautiful moments where Marina can forget her ongoing troubles.
Vega is an amazing talent who could literally do anything, and she gives a performance that surpasses most of the performances by other women AND men that have been nominated for Oscars this year. Not only does she deliver so many tough emotions, but she also sings beautifully, something that Lelio uses quite dramatically in a number of scenes.
It’s a crime that Vega hasn’t been recognized for her performance, and I can only hope that A Fantastic Woman wins the Foreign Language Oscar because it’s impossible to watch it and not consider it one of the best films of 2017. I can’t recommend this film enough. (And if you happen to be an Oscar voter, find and watch that screener you were sent. You can thank me later by voting for A Fantastic Woman in the Foreign Language category.)
A Fantastic Woman is now playing in New York and L.A. and hopefully it will do well enough for Sony Pictures Classics to give it a significant expansion, but don’t drag your heels in going to see it as soon as possible.
Edward Douglas | East Coast Editor
Under the Radar is a semi-weekly column focusing on one or two movies that you might have missed or wouldn’t have heard much about since they have limited marketing budgets. These aren’t reviews per se and they won’t always be about movies I necessarily like — just movies you should know about and any social implications they might have that would make them worthwhile viewing.