"A Fantastic Woman"

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Orlando Reyes (Francisco) and Marina (Daniela Vegaare) are a couple that live together in Orlando's nicely furnished apartment. Although not yet married, there comes a sense in watching them that a next step is soon to come. However, what might be backtracking them from these plans are Orlando's ex-wife and children. Their main concerns are the age difference, Orlando looks to be in his late 50s whereas Marina cannot be more than in her mid thirties, and, more importantly, the fact that Marina underwent a sex change operation recently and was once a man doesn't help. 

Under Chilean law, Marina is still male, her ID-card cannot be changed, but things become a little more tortuous for her once Orlando unexpectedly dies from a heart attack. She has to fend off the cops' bigotry, the private detective chasing her every move and Orlando's family, who want to strip off any possible inheritance he might have had in mind for her, they even refuse to have Marina attend his funeral. They go out of their way to make Marina's life a misery. The pestering and total lack of dignity towards her makes us think that a lot of grudges were being held back when she was with Orlando.

Sebastian Lelio *("Gloria") is the director of "A Fantastic Woman" and with this film, the fifth of his career, he shows us what happens when a person's basic human rights are stripped away and the flexibility for any legal discourse gone. It's a conventional story of an unconventional woman. Of course, because Marina is transgender it brings about a whole slew of additional social and political undertones to the film. Either way, it is quite clear that Orlando's family are not very well-accepting  of her sexual identifying, it confuses them, riles them up, which is not surprising considering there is rampantly problematic homophobia occurring not just in Chile but all of Latin America, not to mention the rest of the world.

With all these ingredients in place Lelio tries to concoct something gripping that feels like you're being transported by Marina's rummaging, confused psyche. It works and it doesn't work. The film is put together with enough passion and verve that, at times, one might be reminded of Pedro Almodovar's noir melodramas. The film's tensions, humor, moments filled with sheer transcendence, occur in the first half  where we are left to discover the characters, the motives, with Lelio seemingly a step ahead of us. There's intrigue looming in ever frame, but that intrigue fades in the second hour as the writer-director isn't sure where he wants his film to go. It's a good thing that Vegaare's magnificent performance is able to carry us through the finish line but the commitment we once had for her truly heroic story is stretched a bit too thinly. "A Fantastic Woman" might be 104 minutes, but it's 20 too long for a story in which the drama slowly fades away. [C+]

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