A Fantastic Woman, about a grieving trans woman, deserves its Oscar nod

Director Sebastián Lelio has an instinct for creating unusually powerful female characters

A FANTASTIC WOMAN (Sebastián Lelio). 104 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (February 9). See listing. Rating: NNNN

If you aren’t familiar with Sebastián Lelio, get to know this Chilean filmmaker, who is making a specialty of female roles, the kind you’d never see in the Hollywood mainstream. 

His 2013 pic Gloria tells the story of a middle-aged woman who refuses to give up on love and includes a sex scene between aging adults that’s thrillingly authentic.

Here, in A Fantastic Woman, a trans woman (Daniela Vega, herself trans) suffers outrageous indignities after the death of her older boyfriend. Even those familiar with the extent to which trans women are vulnerable will be shocked by some of the details: a humiliating examination by police officers who assume she’s a prostitute a harrowing scene of terror at the hands of her boyfriend’s macho family members.

The filmmaking is expert. Watch how Lelio uses mirrors and windows, especially in the moments just after the aforementioned family attack. 

But the key here is Vega, who gives a spectacular performance as a woman desperate to keep her dignity intact and who has almost no emotional support system. I was hoping she’d get an Oscar nod in the best actress category. That, alas did not happen, but the film is nominated for best foreign language film. And rightly so. 

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