Authentic and truthful, A Fantastic Woman holds a mirror up to society

If there was any doubt where director Sebastián Lelio’s was going with the Oscar Award-winning A Fantastic Woman, there’s a big clue in the film’s ironic title.  While some might find transgender Marina Vidal, played with a beautifully measured dignity by Daniela Vega, to be fantastical, this sensitive dissection of mourning ably demonstrates that Marina wants only to be treated like an ordinary person, grieving as would anyone who had lost their partner.

Instead, whether through the intrusive questioning by police, or the acts of astonishing mental and physical cruelly by her partner’s family, we see how little acknowledgement is afforded to her grief. The film’s episodic narrative, rooted in reality but with occasional flashes of magic realism, always feels authentic and truthful, as the family’s spiteful attitude seems increasingly more to do with an inability to condemn the father/brother/husband who turned his back on their values and beliefs, than gender politics.

Ultimately, this film is less about transgender rights, than how we treat anyone different to ourselves, and how we can rise to the challenge of tolerance and understanding. Sebastián Lelio may not offer any easy answers, but he does hold a mirror up to society and asks that we should reflect.

By David Vass