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A Fantastic Woman is a stunning and vibrant examination into loss

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LGBTQ films are having a mainstream moment; from “ Moonlight” to “BPM” to “Call Me By Your Name,” recent audiences have been intrigued and delighted by the portrayal of non-hereto norms on the screen. Enter “A Fantastic Woman,” Chile’s official submission to the 2018 Oscars and front-runner for best foreign film. This film is all at once a meditation on identity and sacrifice, discrimination and acceptance and love and loss. Make no mistake: this is not a love story, but in its totality it is a reflection on what it means to suffer a loss in all aspects. A loss of acceptance, of identity, and of a loved one.

The film centers on the life of Marina Vidal, a transgender woman living in Chile. She is portrayed by the incomparable Daniela Vega. Vega is a veritable triple threat: she acts, she dances and amazingly she sings. When Marina’s partner, Orlando, passes away suddenly on her birthday, her world is rocked: all of a sudden the acceptance she once basked in is robbed from her. Orlando’s family, unaccepting of his lifestyle, wants Marina to have nothing to do with the family’s grieving process. This, of course, upsets Marina and sets up the main conflict of the film. She simply seeks closure, yet cannot have it

This is perhaps the beauty of “A Fantastic Woman”: there’s not a joyous moment when all becomes right with the world, but instead the pain is laid bare for us onscreen. She is misunderstood, harassed and discriminated against. Interspersed with the pain is the joy you’ll feel of Ms. Vega’s singing. You will be moved by her sheer ability to vocalize her love through her operatic abilities. If this is just Vega at the beginning of her career then one can only imagine the acting powerhouse she seems destined to evolve into.

The performances all around are great: those who portray Orlando’s unaccepting family are particularly biting and evil. Kudos must be given to Nicolas Saavedra who plays Orlando’s son Bruno. His cruelty and insensitivity will enrage and discomfort viewers. The film’s ability to make you feel a diverse set of emotions allows for a certain kind of cinematic transcendence that is so rare these days.

Director Sebastián Lelio must be applauded for his work here. This film will surely leave a mark on how LGBTQ films tell their stories, and also how cinema conveys messages of loss: beyond just someone dying but a loss of acceptance and identity. There is a certain beauty he finds in the tragedy of it all, conveyed in the images he puts on screen: simple walking scenes become a battle between mankind and the cruel tendencies of nature, an attempt to forget the pain in a club becomes a dance sequence that mesmerizes and entices.

“A Fantastic Woman” is a film that demands your attention. Its meditation on loss and reflection on identity will move you and stay with you. Fantastic doesn’t do this film justice—you going out to see it, however, will.

Grade: A

“A Fantastic Woman” opened in theaters Feb. 9.

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