Marina (Daniela Vega) and Orlando (Francisco Reyes) make a striking couple. She’s a club singer who somehow manages to make a song about newspapers sound sexy. He’s a significantly older executive but with a vaguely scholarly air.
Yet the very contrast between them contributes to the impression that they were meant to be together. And it seems to matter not one bit that Marina is transgender. If anything, most people would notice the age difference first — then wonder how such a nerdy guy wound up with such an attractive woman.
But an enduring relationship, in which their ages would gradually cease to matter, isn’t in the cards. Orlando’s sudden death not only finds Marina besieged by grief but also leaves her vulnerable to hurtful accusations that her life with him was never quite legitimate.
Orlando’s ex-wife, Sonia (Aline Kuppenheim), warns her to stay away from the funeral, and the police seem suspicious that Marina might somehow have been responsible for Orlando’s demise.
Instead of simply being allowed to mourn the man who meant so much to her, Marina is forced to justify her own existence. And the threat of violence from Orlando’s family looms like thunderclouds on the horizon.
“A Fantastic Woman” is a poignant drama about loss, prejudice and dignity. Working from a screenplay that he co-wrote with Gonzalo Maza, director Sebastian Lelio (“Gloria”) creates a complex portrait of a transgender woman who thought she had found her place in the world, only to find her sense of self called into question.
Vega, who is transgender in real life, turns in a deeply felt and breathtakingly memorable performance. Marina represents an experience that hasn’t often been portrayed on the screen, but the emotional turmoil that she must navigate is wholly relatable.
In our increasingly polarized time, “A Fantastic Woman” bridges the gap between ignorance and understanding through the transcendent power of art.
What “A Fantastic Woman” • Four stars out of four • Run time 1:45 • Rating R • Content Language, sexual content, nudity and an assault • Language In Spanish with English subtitles