Sebastián Lelio’s current film A Fantastic Woman doesn’t fall short of the fervent adjective in its title. Lelio’s choice to cast Daniela Vega in the main role of Marina was nothing other than genius, and she provided the film with the raw, powerful antidote that it needed to fight against the prejudice directed at transgender women, woman in general, and even love.

A Fantastic Woman is a film of self-recognition and the recurring mistreatment and oppression of women that we continue to see in many societies around the world. The focus of the film, Marina, is a transgender waitress and singer who faces discrimination from the family of her lover, Orlando, after he passes away from an unexpected illness in her presence. Immediately following the days after his passing, Marina is questioned by authorities about the incident, as if she is a suspect in his death. However, as if that isn’t traumatic enough, she is also questioned, or rather she is told, that she is not a woman and does not deserve to say goodbye to Orlando properly. Marina dresses, acts, and carries herself as a woman and, should be considered as such; but the people that she encounters in her life do not seem to have the same compassion towards her that Orlando once had. However, there is one person from Orlando’s family who treats Marina with respect, and that is his brother Gabo. Not only does he treat her like a woman, he treats her like a human being as well. There are specific times in the film where he corrects the pronouns people use to refer to Marina, such as the officer who continues the use of the word “he.” Gabo makes it a point to say “she” and “Marina.” Gabo’s line “She is a woman” is one that creates great satisfaction near the end of the film, knowing that someone does in fact have some empathy.

Even though the film is set in another country, Sebastián Lelio’s work unfortunately does not present any new news concerning how women are treated. It is unfortunate that when we see women being mistreated, it is not something that shocks us but rather something that we are almost numb to. Steven Roger’s film I, Tonya, also presents a woman who suffers discrimination. Tonya Harding was always told she wouldn’t amount to anything in figure skating, and was called “white-trash,” just as Marina was told she would never truly be a woman by being referred to as “a man.” In a way, even though they are very different, Marina and Tonya are almost indistinguishable in the way they are treated, especially by men. There is a very uncomfortable scene in A Fantastic Woman in which Marina is pushed around and degraded by a group of men from Orlando’s family; this is similar to a scene in I, Tonya, where Tonya is abused by her ex-husband. However, both of these strong women don’t allow anyone to tell them who they are or aren’t, as they are both propelled through all the abuse and discrimination they face daily.

Not only does Marina face discrimination from men such as Orlando’s very discourteous son, Bruno, who openly asks her if she has “had her operation yet,” but Marina is also insulted by another woman as well. It is almost understandable why Orlando’s ex- wife, Sonia, is so irritable towards her, since she lost her husband’s love to Marina, but the way she degradingly speaks to her is impossible to countenance. Not only does she deny Marina the opportunity to say goodbye to Orlando at the wake, but she openly calls her a man by wondering aloud why Orlando even chose to be with her.

The choice of music throughout this film so seamlessly flows through each scene, but there is one moment that stands out among the rest. This is the scene in which Marina, who one fears would begin to lose herself after enduring such brutal discrimination, actually beams the opposite when Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman” streams from her car radio. A powerful moment occurs when Marina turns up the song, proving to us that she knows exactly who she is.

Encompassing the desire to say goodbye to her loved one, Marina occasionally experiences dreamlike instances where she “sees” Orlando. The dramatic encounter with Orlando towards the end of the film, in which she finally gets to say goodbye to him when he is cremated at the cemetery, shows that a lot of her femininity is strengthened by Orlando. Here we see Marina cry for the first time, which can be taken as a sign of her tucking away her rough exterior and once again feeling like a woman in Orlando’s presence. In the final scene Ms.Vega gives a strong but feminine singing performance, showing the peace she has finally obtained after saying goodbye to her lover.

Sebastián Lelio’s attention to detail is what makes A Fantastic Woman well . . . fantastic. The scenes in which Marina sees Orlando after his passing are treated with such mastery by Lelio that you can feel what it is like to be in her heels. The use of bright red during these scenes are an allusion to Marina’s desire and passion for Orlando; all the colors, dramatic lighting, and camera angles chosen are nothing short of brilliant, and that is what made this film a true art piece in itself. In the words of Marina “I will survive”, and, in the end, she does so extraordinarily.

Marisa Wedlock is a senior majoring in Graphic Design at SVA. Marisa’s short story “A Creation From Another World” was published in the Fall 2015 issue of The Match Factory. She is a figure skater with a passion for all art, and she loves to paint, draw, and write.