Orlando (Francisco Reyes) takes his girlfriend, Marina (Daniela Varga), out for dinner and dancing to celebrate her birthday. He is 20 years her senior and fell in love with her after leaving his previous wife. Their exultant festivities are disrupted when Orlando suffers an aneurysm and falls down the stairs. Marina rushes to the hospital but sadly not in time to save him. Still reeling in grief, Marina must suffer a parade of humiliations and insult from her lover’s family and the police who suspect her of corrupting and killing the deceased because she is a trans-woman.
The story grounds itself in Marina’s experience to literally put the audience in her shoes. Her sexual identity is not an issue until she loses her lover. Daniela Vega’s performance is incredibly captivating, capturing the suffering and pain trans-people are forced to endure so pointedly. Initially, she experiences microaggressions, like the family and police referring to her as a man and thinking she was just a prostitute who was with Orlando for money. Marina is visibly hurt but carries on, sadly accustomed to this level of disrespect and ignorance.
Injury is added to insult as the family prohibit her from attending her lover’s funeral for fear of offending the extended family. They strip her of everything Orlando gave to her and the police strip her down for one of the most humiliating physicals ever committed to film.
Form and content are perfectly aligned as the camera and set design subtlety capture Marina’s emotional state. The movie is peppered with some gripping visual flourishes that mark the stages of its protagonist’s journey. Director Sebastián Lelio has found the perfect balance, alternating between powerful symbolism and subtle realism with confidence and charm.
Throughout the film, Marina endures compromises and wins small victories but she continues to fight for her right to say goodbye to her lover. The first sequence depicts a happy couple, free of fetishization or exploitation, and is bittersweet in retrospect. Orlando’s ghost becomes the voice of reason, lost in a world of gender bigotry.
Daniela Varga has supplied the festival with arguably the finest performance and Sebastián Lelio has succeeded in rendering what many perceive as radical into something familiar and vice versa. The stunning Una Mujer Fantastica offers the audience a vivid window into trans-life without resorting to sensationalism or cheap gimmicks.
Una Mujer Fantastica (A Fantastic Woman) does not have a UK release date yet.
For further information about the 67th Berlin Film Festival visit here.