After being conditioned to be wary of movies with “Fantastic” in the title (Fantastic 4, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Fant4stic) we finally get a film that bucks that trend, along with many others.
This Chilean Oscar winner follows a waitress and singer (Daniela Vega) as she deals with the sudden death of her lover (Francisco Reyes) and the transphobia she encounters on a daily basis. Quite why it’s taken this long to have a trans woman play a trans woman in a feature film is anyone’s guess, but Vega’s captivating performance forms the emotional heart of the movie. It’s an Oscar-worthy leading turn, yet for some reason foreign films only seem to be eligible for the one category.
The drama is dreamily directed by Sebastián Lelio, whose previous feature Gloria explored the experiences of a middle-aged woman, and is set to continue his audacious, compassionate depictions of womanhood in his next picture about a lesbian couple in a Jewish community. Here he shows a perspective we’ve never really seen before, offering a unique insight into how trans people are treated and dehumanised, while never losing sight of the person at the film’s centre.
Where The Danish Girl was about someone discovering who they were, A Fantastic Woman is about someone who already knows. The issues are all other people’s. This forward-thinking approach provides strength in the face of ignorance and hope for future generations of all nationalities, not just Chilean minors. On top of that there’s stunning cinematography, a striking score and the best use of Aretha Franklin’s Natural Woman since RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Pioneering and empowering, A Fantastic Woman feels like a quiet revolution. Next time, skip Netflix and go straight to Chile.