After a romantic night out, a woman’s boyfriend collapses in their apartment. Worried, she rushes him to hospital. Within an hour, she’s told he has died. Unable to process the information, she runs, and is dragged back to the hospital by security. They’re not only suspicious of the circumstances surrounding the man’s death, but also who the woman was to him, and what she might be hiding, because the woman doesn’t look exactly like other women, and when they look at her ID card, it has a man’s name on it.
It’s with a slow and steady hand that Chilean director Sebastián Lelio guides us into the world of Marina Vidal. A transgender woman, Marina lives in a time when LGBTQ+ rights have never been more talked about but, as we quickly discover, that doesn’t mean the fight’s over. In her first lead role, transgender actress Daniela Vega affords Marina a quiet dignity that belies her daily struggle as she’s ritually humiliated by bigots and businesswomen alike.
The tragedy of her tale is expertly handled by both Vega and Lelio, who never overplay their hand, and frequently look for the hope hidden in the horror. Flashes of surrealism leaven the mood, including a glittering dancefloor segment and a telling moment in which Marina struggles to walk down the street as she battles a gale that keeps pushing her back. These surreal flourishes aside, A Fantastic Woman forgoes a traditional narrative (its McGuffin leads nowhere; there’s no grand victory for Marina) which might flummox some viewers, but as a portrait of a woman fighting bigotry and prejudice with quiet self-belief, it’s gripping stuff.