A Fantastic Woman

 

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Santiago is the setting for a drama that provides great opportunities for its leading actress.

 
Fantastic Woman, A

Daniela Vega (centre)

 

This highly acclaimed and truly remarkable film sets a problem for the critic. There has been so much talk about A Fantastic Woman that many audiences will go to the cinema aware of the subject matter embraced by its director Sebastián Lelio who co-wrote the screenplay with Genzalo Maza. Nevertheless, I for one feel that the critic should respect the fact that the screenplay chooses to adopt an oblique approach in preference to making the nature of the story clear from the outset.

 

Let it be said then that the film introduces us to a couple, Marina (Daniela Vega) and Orlando (Francisco Reyes) who, despite a substantial age gap (he in his fifties and she very much younger), are obviously at ease together and genuinely in love. However, an unexpected turn of events leads to the revelation that Orlando's ex-wife, Sonia (Aline Küppenheim), disapproves of their relationship as do other family members and, indeed, it eventually emerges that it was an unconventional match.

 

Since the hostility expressed can be regarded as born of prejudice, A Fantastic Woman reminded me of Fear Eats the Soul, Fassbinder's 1974 movie recently reissued which also portrayed a relationship with an age disparity but more significantly concerned itself with racism in a society that disapproved of mixed race marriages. Both works invite us to respond to the humanity of the couple portrayed and that emphasis here, chosen in preference to an approach that is either melodramatic or strident, suggests that A Fantastic Woman will be a masterpiece all the more telling for its tone of understatement.

 

In the event - and to my surprise for the filmmaking is so assured on every level - I felt that this film's later sequences suggested that Lelio did not know how to bring his work to a close. There is a long section suggesting that the contents of a locker will be prove to be important, but this seems to lead nowhere. Furthermore, despite the essential naturalism of the film, brief earlier images which believably suggest hallucinations in which a dead person is seen become elaborated into something far more lengthy that smacks of surrealism or a ghost story. And, if one or two scenes seem much less persuasive in consequence, it's also the case that winding things up with a performance of the famous Handel aria ‘Ombra mai fu’ lacks real weight. This is a great pity, but nothing can take away from the spell-binding central performance by Daniela Vega and Lelio's brave film, even if imperfect, is one that demands to be seen.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco, Aline Küppenheim, Nicolás Saavedra, Ampsaro Noguera, Trinidad González, Nestor Cantillana, Alejandro Goic.

 

Dir Sebastián Lelio, Pro Juan de Dios Larrain, Pablo Larrain, Sebastián Lelio and Gonzalo Maza, Screenplay Sebastián Lelio and Gonzalo Maza, Ph Benjamin Echazarreta, Art Dir Estefanía Larrain, Ed Soledad Salfate, Music Matthew Herbert, Costumes Muriel Parra.

 

Fabula/Participant Media/Komplizen Film-Curzon Artificial Eye.
104 mins. Chile/USA/Germany/Spain. 2017. Rel: 2 March 2018. Cert. 15.