A Fantastic Woman, the Chilean film that won the Oscar for 2017’s best Foreign Film, is the searing, haunting , immensely watchable saga of a bereaved transgender woman struggling for her place in an unkind society.

Daniela Vega stars as Marina, a gentlewoman who waitresses and sings cabaret in Santiago. Marina’s world is toppled with the sudden, unexpected death of her partner, Orlando.

The loss would be devastating under ordinary circumstances, but Marina’s gender identity means she struggles from almost the moment of Orlando’s passing with additional realms of pain; a suspicious hospital staff, family members with deep and seething grudges.

Though a woman who makes no comment on her looks, her sexuality or her loves, these are topics that nearly no one Marina meets are able to ignore, a problem especially cruel in her humiliation at the hands of the police, who are not convinced of her innocence in Orlando’s death.

Director and co-writer Sebastián Lelio highlights Marina’s isolation as she is evicted from Orlando’s apartment, barred from his funeral and even has her dog taken away. In one engrossing scene after the next, Marina prevails through it all.

Vega brilliantly portrays Marina’s loss, her frustration and her quiet determination to carry on. Occasionally the film slides into surrealism as it explores her inner longings, sequences that show her processing a grief that she has little support for.

Vega must carry much of the film with her face as her character in nearly every scene, and carry it she does. And while her struggles are the backbone of the film, its flesh is her strength of spirit and the truth of her love. These reserves keep her going and make her story very much worth watching.

 

A Fantastic Woman

1 hr. 44 min., Rated R

In Spanish with English subtitles.

Playing at Salem Cinema until March 29, and
Playing in Portland theaters after that.