Many recent films have tried, but Sebastián Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman feels like one of the few to get the transgender experience right — or, at least, one particular version of it. Marina Vidal (Daniela Vega) is a young trans woman who works as a waitress and lives with her lover, the much-older Orlando (Francisco Reyes). When Orlando dies suddenly, Marina is forced to deal with his family, who consider her a shameful perversion they’d rather see go away, forbidding her from attending Orlando’s wake or funeral. Making matters worse, the police view Marina with just as much distrust.
Vega gives a stunning, at times emotionally raw performance in A Fantastic Woman, and Lelio tells the story with an uncommon amount of compassion. Note to distributors: When your leading lady is a beautiful woman like Daniela Vega, of whom many excellent stills are available, choosing one in which her hair is flattened into an unflattering style as she stares expressionlessly down the barrel of the camera — in other words, looking as remotely masculine as she ever does in A Fantastic Woman, wholly unrepresentative of her appearance in the other 96 minutes of the film — it becomes a microaggression similar to many her character experiences, and it’s definitely a dick move. Read the room, folks.
Opens Friday at the Embarcadero Center Cinema and the Alamo Drafthouse New Mission.