A Fantastic Woman [Una mujer fantástica]

(Chile 2017)

“The thing is, Orlando started feeling sick. And he died.”

— Marina

“When I look at you, I don’t know what I’m seeing.”

— Sonia

Whichever meaning of the word fantastic is employed, A Fantastic Woman is a fitting title for Sebastián Lelio’s latest film; some might consdier the protagonist a fantasy (i.e., not real) or think her head is in the clouds, but she’s definitely marked by her extreme individuality. She also proves to be quite amazing.

Things are good for transgender singing waitress Marina Vidal (Daniela Vega): she just moved in with her older lover, Orlando (Francisco Reyes), and their dog, Daibla (Diabla). Orlando takes her to dinner for her birthday and surprises her with plane tickets. Happy happy, joy joy!

Everything changes when Orlando has an aneurysm and dies in the hospital. Marina is forced to deal with Orlando’s son, Bruno (Nicolás Saavedra); his ex-wife, Sonia (Aline Küppenheim); the police, who keep insisting that she had something to do with the wound on Orlando’s head (he hit it against the wall when he fell down the stairs on their way out to the hospital); and mourning her profound loss — something no one but Orlando’s brother, Gabo (Luis Gnecco), will give her the space to do.

A mysterious key and a need to say goodbye to Orlando’s body are the impetus of the story. Lelio and Gonzalo Maza’s screenplay is not what makes A Fantastic Woman compelling; Vega’s sorrowful and quietly defiant performance does. Faced with a string of indignities over the course of two days, Miranda handles herself smartly with toughness and grace, giving in when she needs to but always pushing back — or at least ahead.

Benjamín Echazarreta’s sharp cinematography places Marina dead center in every frame, bathing her in color and shadow. The look is fluid, underscoring a water motif that runs throughout the story. Lelio’s dream sequences and hallucinations add a hazy, otherworld quality. This is eloquent.

With Amparo Noguera, Trinidad González, Néstor Cantillana, Alejandro Goic, Antonia Zegers, Sergio Hernández, Roberto Farías, Cristián Chaparro, Felipe Zambrano, Erto Pantoja, Loreto Leonvendagar, Fabiola Zamora, José Raffo, Pablo Cerda, Moises Angulo, Veronica Garcia-Huidobro        

Production: Fabula, Komplizen Film

Distribution: Sony Pictures Classics

104 minutes
Rated R

(Music Box) B



The Club [El club]

(Chile 2015)

Pablo Larrain’s The Club is intense. Fr. Garcia (Marcelo Alonso), a Jesuit counselor for the Vatican, is on assignment investigating an incident that occurs at a home for wayward clergy tucked away in the hills of La Boca, a fishing town on the coast of Chile. The home, where four scandalized priests live, has many rules– no cell phones, no showers longer than five minutes, no self-pleasuring– and is run by sweet but cunning Sr. Monica (Antonia Zegers). Animosity quickly develops between methodical Fr. Garcia and the others during the course of his investigation, complicated by unstable local day worker Sandokan (Roberto Farias) and his odd habit of showing up outside the home and loudly recounting in disturbingly graphic detail the sexual abuse inflicted upon him as a child by another priest, Fr. Lazcano (Jose Soza).

Moody, heavy, and intricate, The Club tackles not just the Vatican’s handling of scandal but survival in a culture of denial, mercy, forgiveness, and reconciling one’s faith within the confines of an imperfect human institution. The acting is flawless– Alonso and Alfredo Castro are particularly great– and the cast works as an ensemble. An excellent allegory of dogs as God, explained by Alonso himself after the screening, and Sandokan’s rants– a weird mix of medical terminology and porn– will haunt me for a long time.

(AMC River East) B+

Chicago International Film Festival