“I would like them to understand that we are people. We’re human beings, and this is a human life.”
“A Fantastic Woman” from Sebastián Lelio is a saddening epoch of man’s baseness facing the unfamiliar and seeking comfort over compassion in the remembrance of a loved one who would offer nothing but shame to the clowns in question. A death triggers a familial grief that finds little vacancy for understanding the chosen path of the source for their respective grieving. What follows after is the reverberating treatment of a character who may have very well forgotten the state of her own “strangeness” when surrounded by appreciation. A profound idea that could have been explored further.
While the film does well to take creative liberties and makes every effort to draw the audience into a sympathetic state, it does a poor job creating a contextual narrative for the necessary cathartic release. Finding no background to their relationship was perhaps an opportunity lost, as noted by Anthony Lane (New Yorker). Said best by José Teodoro (Film Comment):
This film’s heart is clearly in the right place, but to plant a marginalized character in the foreground of a narrative is not quite the same as making that character live and breathe.
Certainly more could have been done, and while we can’t expect the Chilean to be Paolo Sorrentino (ending reminiscent of Youth), we could expect him to understand the irony of using a Nietzsche quote that intends to convey the overcoming of a disease to depict the normalization of transgender identity when the plot is based on the other seeing the issue is one of abnormality.
That said, the writing is subpar; engaging in plots that end up going nowhere and the character sheltering qualities that are all but wasted in the midst of her state of recovery. The film winning a writing award in Berlin is purely based on the context in which that writing was presented and not on the quality of the writing itself. The redeeming qualities that exist are those found in connecting what Sesali Bowen (Refinery29) describes as a complication of LGBT-identity and death, using an excellent episode of Black Mirror as an example.
The acting from Daniela Vega yields little ostensible talent, but offers a glimpse into a promising career for an actress in roles that require someone with a unique living experience to truly unfold its complexities. Suggestions that she deserves an Oscar nod is, again, ideological posturing. If you want to introduce the very rare foreign actor into the Oscars, go with Alexandra Borbély, at least. Vega, being the first ever transgender presenter at the Oscars, may be posturing as well, but it is an important step in a climate still reticent to show compassion.
The film, like Saturday Church, is a learning opportunity for those who fail to see the consequences of rejecting an identity largely based on familiarity blindness. We will soon continue the lesson with Lelio releasing a second LGBT film starring Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz in April; although, I suspect the casting decision will only be a distraction.