Recently I began to attend Spanish and salsa lessons at Battersea Spanish, where I got the opportunity to engage in their social programme, open to everyone. I particularly enjoy the film nights, which allow you to experience cuisine and movies from the country of origin. On this occasion, we ate Chilean food as the film was Una Mujer Fantástica, set in the capital, Santiago. Released in 2017, written and directed by Sebastián Lelio, the plot centres around Marina, a transgender woman who works as both a singer and a waitress. It is a tale of love and grief, underpinned by her experiences as a transgender woman and the transphobia she faces.
What shouldn’t be, but is, remarkable, is that Marina is played by Daniela Vega, who herself is a transgender woman. This contrasts with films such as Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl and Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club, where cisgender actors have been cast in the roles of transgender characters. As well as winning an Oscar in 2018 for Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards in 2018, Vega was the first transgender person in history to present the awards as well as the first to win a major award. Her background as a mezzo-soprano singer also made her perfect for the role – in which music plays a key part. Oddly enough, Vega was initially hired as a script consultant, and despite not having had previous acting experience, she was offered the lead role.
There are moments in the film that make for very difficult and emotional viewing
The film shows how Marina attempts to grieve and cope with the loss of her partner, in the face of the added hostility of her lover’s family and ex-wife. Although understandable that being confronted by ‘the other woman’ would be a difficult situation for his ex-wife, Sonia (Aline Küppenheim), she comforts herself at the expense of Marina by implying the love between Marina and Orlando (Francisco Reyes) didn’t exist, but was rather a perversion. This attitude is also carried through by his son Bruno (Nicolás Saavedra), whose actions turn violent. There are moments in the film that make for very difficult and emotional viewing in this respect. There is a real sense of loneliness throughout the film, as Marina battles against everything that is thrown at her, finding only relief in her friends and her ownership of space.
The cinematography, by Benjamín Echazarreta, provides a cool and moody feel, with a play on viewing angles, allowing us to see scenes through blinds and mirrors. There are moments of stillness, quietness, and the film shows what lengths Marina – a grieving woman – will go to in order to try to cling on to Orlando, putting herself in uncomfortable situations in attempt to find some relief from her pain. There are also surreal images that capture our attention and offer symbolism, such as a choreographed dance scene, and her being pushed by the wind in the middle of an empty street.
Una Mujer Fantástica is just one example of what film making is capable of when transgender actors are given the opportunity to play roles that perhaps reflect their own lived experiences. More than that, we don’t need to give such reasons, for something that should not even be a debate.
Featured image by Natalia Espina
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