A Fantastic Woman – Film Review

A Fantastic Woman

(2017)    A Fantastic Woman (Curzon)

 Director: Sebastian Lelio


Cast: Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco


Runtime: 1 hour 40 minutes

 Screening at Home, Manchester and on general release

A Fantastic Woman is a film that is as understated yet dazzlingly self-assured as Daniela Vega’s performance. Charting a course between contemporary social realism and surrealist fantasy, this is a cinematic testament to conviction, in terms of narrative, direction and character. Like other Oscar contenders and winners this year, it feels like a film that is truly redolent of its time. This is an intimate portrait of Marina, a transgender woman, coping with the sudden death of her partner amidst intolerance and abuse.

The path to the Temple at Delph was a sacred one. Well known yet sacred and obscure as its wisdom was hidden in plain sight. Know Thyself read the inscription above the entrance. Ironic, given that the Temple harboured the Delphic oracle. In A Fantastic Woman, Sebastian Lelio expands that phrase with the addendum And Others Will Be Known To You.

“I don’t know what you are!”
Multiplicities abound on the fractious steppes of this century. They bicker against each other and they fight amongst themselves. We approached the entrance to the temple and in the gaudy neon of the inscription a thousand shadows danced, legs entwined, entangled, each a semblance of the other yet each unique, rolling in and out of illumination like the faces of a die.

“I don’t know what you are!”
Singularity is a thing of the ancient past, an Enlightenment fancy that ran its course in the 20th century. Each username, each password, every avatar, every profile pic, every time your eyeballs twitch behind their stinging lids, we are lost in the depths of the Delphic challenge, ever closer ever further from the truth. We cannot unravel the cables. There are no cables any longer. There are no ports. We have freed our selves from their moorings. Off world. Bound for the Cloud.
“I don’t know what you are!”

Yet somehow, Marina is real. Marina clenches her fists. Marina swings through the air and the punchball reels. Back and forth, back and forth, super fast. There was one punchball. Then two, three, four punchballs are visible flickering either side of the spring mount stem. Reeling. Realing. The front door is closed now behind her. Marina has gone. Marina is real.

Marina is in the darkened bedroom, the stark stairwell, the highway at night with her foot on the gas, in the hospital corridor, the police station, the alleyway, the nightclub, the chapel, the temple: the Temple at Delph. Marina is the inscription above the entrance. Marina is inside the temple. Marina is the temple. There are two, three, four… a lifetime of faces illuminated in the gallery, gargoyles contorted: “I don’t know what you are!” She smiles and replies calmly: know thyself.

A Fantastic Woman is on general release now.
Watch the trailer for the film on YouTube here:

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All words by Lee Ashworth. More writing by Lee Ashworth can be found at his author’s archive. Lee Ashworth is also on twitter as @Lee_Ashworth_ and has a website here.

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