Daniela Vegas’ amazing face—even her most muted expressions communicate visible thoughts—carries most of the weight of A Fantastic Woman, Sebastián Lelio’s endurance test of a movie. Even in nominally progressive media like Transparent, cisgender men are often cast as transwomen, so it’s somewhat revolutionary to see Vegas, who is transgender, play transgender singer Marina, whose mourning for her dead partner, Orlando, is disrupted by brutal treatment from Orlando’s bigoted family and the police and hospital workers handling his body. There’s a lot of rhetorical and physical violence in A Fantastic Woman, and all of it is hard to watch (and almost enough to make you wonder at what point depicting abuse leveled at a marginalized character becomes more exploitative than instructive). But a strain of emotionally startling fancy pushes A Fantastic Woman away from gratuitous pain and into the surreal, with moments that are visually striking and frame Marina’s inner life and reserves with the respect they deserve.
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