A Fantastic Woman

A Fantastic Woman

Director: Sebastián Lelio
Running Time: 104 minutes

A Fantastic Woman Lives Up to Its Title, in More Ways Than One.

A Fantastic Woman is at once a straightforward story of self-assertion and defiance and a complex study of the nuances of identity. The complications extend to the title. Marina (Ms. Vega), a waitress and sometime cabaret singer who lives in Santiago, Chile, seems at first to fulfill the romantic fantasies of her lover, Orlando (Francisco Reyes). Later, her daily routines, and Mr. Lelio’s adherence to the conventions of realism, will be disrupted by moments of fantastical spectacle and surreality. And in the course of a series of ordeals that begins with Orlando’s death, many of the people Marina encounters will question whether she’s really a woman at all.

Like the heroine of Mr. Lelio’s previous film, Gloria (2013), Marina insists on her own dignity, her basic rights to respect, safety and the pursuit of pleasure, in the face of condescension, indifference and contempt. Their situations are not identical: Gloria is a middle-aged, upper-middle-class, divorced mother; Marina is young, transgender and from a modest background. But they both rebel against a stubbornly patriarchal society that pushes them to the margins and expects them to be content with a half-invisible, second-class status.

Psychologically astute and socially aware as the film is, it is also infused with mystery and melodrama, with bright colors and emotional shadows. Almodóvarian and Buñuelian grace notes adorn its matter-of-fact melody, and its surface modesty camouflages an unruly, extravagant spirit. You may not realize until the very end that you have been gazing at the portrait of an artist in the throes of self-creation.

Spanish language with English subtitles

~~ A.O. Scott, nytimes.com