Marina Vidal (Daniela Vega) is finally in a good place in her life, as her singing career may be about to take off which means she can leave waitressing behind, and she shares an apartment with her devoted boyfriend, Orlando (Francisco Reyes), an older gentleman who had left his wife and family to settle down with Marina, and whose successful textile business ensures they can live a comfortable existence in a well-to-do area of Chile. Today is her birthday, and Orlando takes her out for a meal though admits he has mislaid her birthday present, a couple of holiday tickets, but once they return home for the perfect end to a perfect day, it turns out not to be so perfect after all...
This is because Orlando wakes up in the middle of the night not feeling well, and starts to deteriorate before Marina's eyes, tumbling downstairs and only just managing to get into the car to be taken to the hospital. Things will only get worse: the man dies, and her family get in almost immediately to make it extremely difficult for her to mourn in the way that his siblings, ex and offspring will be able to. You may think that's down to a grudge against Marina for taking Orlando away from them, and there was a definite element of that, but not helping at all is the fact she is transgender, and none of them can deal with the idea their brother, their father, their husband, wanted her.
And wanted her over them, to boot. Chile being a conservative country, you imagine transgender people would face a hard time there anyway, but let's face it, they face a hard time wherever they live thanks to various prejudices, so director Sebastián Lelio set out to demonstrate it didn't matter what gender you were or were not, you could still do with love in your life, it was a basic human right to be able to give affection and receive it in kind. Vega was transgender in real life, which made a difference and felt far more authentic than, say, putting Eddie Redmayne in a dress, since you had the impression she knew of which she spake, and the fact that she was not delivering some caricature mattered.
In fact, Vega conveyed a sense of numbness, a dread that said, gotta get through this, must get through this, which had her performance hardly ever voice-raising or histrionic, indeed the only sequence where she started shouting was when Orlando's relatives kidnap and humiliate her, though thankfully it is mostly her ego that is bruised. Given Vega's striking facial resemblance to Hollywood heavy Michael Shannon, she could be his sister, it was reasonable that we could be impressed by Marina's similarly defining, formidable force of will that did not turn itself to revenge or bitterness, least of all violence, but a simple need to grieve in her own way, which of course is the exact same way everyone else grieves as just because she has had sexuality issues it did not make her any less human.
The gender aspect was not the only guiding narrative, as the class one was there too, for Marina is not upper-class Chilean and Orlando was, which prompts some terrible snobbery to go along with the toxic cocktail of resentment in her lost lover's family. This was where the singing came into it, as she is taking lessons to perform classical music (Vega did her own singing, indeed that was where she specialised away from making this movie), which could be regarded as getting ideas above her station, yet also proving she was worthy of Orlando's respect as well as love. All very well, and Lelio added intriguing fantasy sequences to indicate his protagonist's internal turmoil, but was it worth the accolades, such as the Oscar, it won? It certainly had its heart in the right place, but Marina was more an emblem than a person, and the buttoned-down nature of her personality left sympathies very much reliant on the circumstances and ignorance she faced rather from any warm qualities she put across; if anything, she was a cold fish. Nevertheless, an admirable try. Music by Nani García and Matthew Herbert.
Aka: Una Mujer Fantástica
[The Curzon Blu-ray has a brief featurette and the trailer as extras.]