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(Sebastián Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman is a 2018 Oscar Nominated Film for Best Foreign Language Film. It’s also in theaters now in limited release.)

The waters of Iguazu Falls, located on the border of Brazil and Argentina, near where they also intersect with Paraguay, stream in awesome majesty over cliffs to pools far below, relentlessly moving their payload from the interior towards the Atlantic. The river is possessed of inexorable kinetic energy, unstoppable in its progression. It’s a perfect visual metaphor for Marina Vidal, the protagonist of the Oscar-nominated (in the Foreign Language Film category) A Fantastic Woman, from Chilean director Sebastián Lelio (Gloria). The movie opens with shots of the falls for a reason: Marina is a force of nature, even if her identity, in the eyes of many, goes against the laws of nature.

When first we meet her, she is singing in a rooftop bar, while her lover, the older Orlando, gazes adoringly at her. We cut to the restaurant where they celebrate her birthday – and where Orlando apologizes for misplacing the tickets he purchased for the two of them to visit the aforementioned falls – before we follow them home for a loving make-out session. Unfortunately, that very night, Orlando wakes up in pain, and though Marina rushes him to the hospital – not before he collapses and tumbles down the stairs – he dies soon afterwards, from an aneurysm.

It’s at the hospital where we begin to suspect the truth about Marina, which is that she was (and legally, still is) a man, undergoing the lengthy process of transition to full womanhood. The doctors and police treat her with increasing disrespect, as do most of Orlando’s family once they get involved. The bruises and contusions that Orlando suffered in his headlong spill raise questions, which are then used as an excuse to humiliate Marina. On top of the devastating loss of her lover, she now has to endure this ongoing debasement. It’s painful, and she wilts, at first.

But slowly, gathering momentum like the Iguazu River, Marina finds the strength to push back and reclaim her identity as a proud woman. As played by Daniela Vega, herself a trans actor, Marina is fierce, yet tender, capable of the greatest empathy, but also willing to fight back, as required. Her liquid eyes mesh with a steely gaze, and she reveals herself a force as implacable as Iguazu. As a paean to the power of self-will and the tolerance of difference, A Fantastic Woman is fantastic, indeed.

In Spanish, with English subtitles.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)


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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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