Female characters play a dominant role in the recent films of Chilean director Sebastián Lelio. We saw this at the 2013 Berlinale, where his female-themed film “Gloria” took home awards and was a critical success, and we’ve seen it again this year with “A fantastic woman”.
Once again, we find a woman who is alone in the world and fighting to reclaim her right to a dignified existence in an inhospitable society. This time, the story is centred around Marina – played by the transgender actress Daniela Vega – who lives in Santiago, Chile with her partner Orlando, a wealthy man who is divorced and considerably older than her, and who is played by Francisco Reyes. The unexpected death of Orlando forces Marina to confront the feelings disdain, humiliation and phobia heaped on her by his family – and not for being the lover of the deceased, but because they fully reject her gender identity.
But Marina will be not stopped in her two-pronged determination: to say her final farewell to the man who was her partner, and to keep the dog that Orlando had given her prior to his death. The minimum contract that Daniela is willing to accept with her new enemies is not only not respected, but they also go to great lengths to denigrate her as much as possible. Lyrical song seems to be the only thing that allows Marina to find peace in herself and in a violent world where there is seemingly no place for her. As the director himself summarised: “Marina is ready for the world, but the world is not ready for her.”
For Sebastián Lelio, returning to the Berlinale is like coming home again after the successful memory of Gloria. His fourth film won the Silver Bear in 2013 as well as Best Actress for the superb performance of Paulina García. Since then, and almost unintentionally, the German capital city has become his new home.
His fifth film, which was produced by the all-stars of contemporary Chilean cinema, Juan de Dios and Pablo Larraín, is the only Spanish-language production competing for this year’s Golden Bear. Told with a great deal of feeling, but also somewhat slowly and with less certainty in the intensity of the narration, A fantastic woman was given a relatively quiet reception at the Berlinale, compared to de Dios’ previous film.