Tuesday, June 12, 2018

2018 Winner, A Fantastic Woman

A Fantastic Woman

Director:  Sebastián Lelio

Distributed by:  Sony Pictures Classics

Released:  Februay 2017

Country:  Chile

Imagine a woman, in her late 20’s or so, a waitress and an aspiring opera singer.  She is dating a rather wealthy man in his early 60’s, and has recently moved into his rather luxurious apartment.  The man is divorced or separated from his wife, with whom he has a nine-year-old daughter.  He left her for the younger woman, apparently unable or unwilling to keep his urges for the younger woman in check, thinking he is in love.  One day, the man falls suddenly ill after sex with the younger woman and dies in the hospital.  After his death, the woman still has the keys to the man’s car and apartment and takes her sweet time giving both of them up to her late lover’s family.  She insists on attending the dead man’s services in spite of the demand by the family that she stay away to spare their feelings, including that of the nine-year-old.  The question:  Is this a Fantastic Woman?

Ah, but I left out one smallest of small details—the woman, quite recently, went by the name of Daniel.  The Fantastic Woman is, you see, a transsexual named Marina.  And Marina seems nice enough, a person with insecurities and talents and the need for love, just like anyone else.  But because she was a man, she gets treated impolitely, even harshly, by a number of people she encounters after the death of her boyfriend, Orlando.

Marina and Old Orlando
For one thing, when she brings him to the hospital, the staff don’t consider her family and therefore don’t allow her into his room.  While waiting for Marina to take him to the hospital, Orlando takes a tumble down a flight of stairs, resulting in some bruising and a contusion on his head.  Marina is questioned by police about it and about the fact that she inexplicably ran away from the hospital for a time after bringing Orlando there; they wrongly suspect there may have been domestic abuse.  During questioning they check Marina’s ID and take pictures of Marina’s entire body to check for bruises--as someone puts it, she "hasn't had the operation yet."  Orlando’s ex-wife isn’t too big a fan either.  She tells Marina that when Orlando left her, she told him that Marina was a perversion.  She calls Marina a “chimera,” which seems to cut Marina deeply.  I had to look up the definition--"an illusion or fabrication of the mind."  Ouch?

From what I could gather, the point of the film was to elicit sympathy for Marina and antipathy for those who mistreat Marina.  The plot was rather thin and the last 30 minutes or so seemed to drag on endlessly with no real resolution.  Basically, it seems what makes Marina a fantastic woman is that she is a victim.

The films is very skillfully and aesthetically photographed, a real pleasure to look at.  Santiago, Chile, comes off looking bright, sophisticated, and colorful.  The acting was fine, though I found Daniella Vega, who plays Marina, to be a bit one-note, not really moving beyond a sort of dull melancholy.  Overall, this wasn’t a bad movie, really, just an overpraised one.  Again, had the main character not been transgendered/transexual, I would have still found Marina to be hard to like.  But while the Academy, the critics, and whoever wrote the film wanted the viewer to find Marina to be “fantastic,” I did not.

Some guy stuck on an elevator with Marina and Orlando's wife: AWKWARD!
The Title:   Una mujer fantastic.  We live in a time in which one has to be careful when one discusses any LGBTQ in a manner that is anything but fully accepting.  In many circles, it is frowned upon, even illegal, to not accept a person’s gender as something other than what they were born as.  That said, I found it interesting that the protagonist in this film is labeled “fantastic,” a word which can be defined as “based on fantasy, not real.”  I suppose the writer of the film, which very much is sympathetic to Marina, may have been trying to be ironic, or witty, or something.

The culture:  First Best Foreign Film winner from Chile, it comes off as a slightly less than conservative country, with vestiges of its Catholic heritage intact. 

Agenda danger:  Frankly, I had a bit of a headache from being hit over the head with the message of the film, which was that those who don’t accept trans-sexuality are numerous and despicable.  In one scene, a group of thugs terrorize Marina with slurs and wrap her head in scotch tape.  But even the people who seem to be polite to Marina hold an obvious dislike for who she is or has chosen to be.

Scene from The Shape of Water
Best Picture that year:  The Shape of Water.  Hoo boy, it seems Oscar had a real agenda on its (his? her?) mind this year.  This Guillermo del Toro film tells the story of a woman who has a hankering for a fish.  And I don’t mean she enjoys a good tuna fish sandwich every now and again; I mean she enjoys getting boned by a fish man, obviously not a fillet.  That story, while more “fantastic” than A Fantastic Woman, is even more blatant in its message that all relationships of a sexual nature are equally acceptable.  Even if one agrees with this concept wholeheartedly, it's hard not to feel preached to in watching these two films.

Rating:  I didn’t find this film fantastic by any definition.  Mostly, it was a bore.

Friday, December 15, 2017

My BFF Wrap-Up: My Ranking

Starting in June 2016, I watched and reviewed every winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, or in short, Best Foreign Film (BFF), in reverse chronological order from the 2015 entry to the awards inception in 1947 (watching the 2016 winner at the end).  Part of the experiment was to see how many of these I would be able to find.  In most cases, I was able to borrow the DVD of each film from the Cuyahoga County Library system (a consistently top rated system in Northeast Ohio), and as things went further back in time, that meant using the inter-library systems CCL employs, SearchOhio and OhioLINK.  I did have to watch a couple on the dusty old VCR.  On two or three occasions when I couldn’t find the movie through the CCL system, I was able to get DVDs from the Cleveland Public Library.  Once I paid $2 to watch a movie on Amazon, and that was the grand total of money I spent on this project.  I did find a couple rare films online, having exhausted every other possibility.  Only once was I not able to find a film at all, at least with English subtitles, and that was 1950’s The Walls of Malapaga.  I watched it only in French with Portuguese subtitles, and decided to review it anyway.

My reviews were intended for people who don’t normally watch foreign films, a group that included me not all that long ago.  I found a lot of the movies worth watching, not just ones you might see at an art house, but movies I am convinced would have been mainstream American favorites had they been in English.  I also sat through a lot of tedious, self-admiring crap that got awards for having the right political or social view to the voters of the Academy.  But enough about The Sea Inside.  My goal was to make the reviews be entertaining, especially when the movie wasn't, and to give American viewer something they could relate to.

The list here is my amateurish attempt to rank what is perhaps the unrankable.  There are a variety of genres and so many different cultures represented here that it is almost unfair to compare them against each other.  But I did anyway, and the films are listed below from best to worst.  Click any movie title to read the review.  You can follow me on Twitter at @hawley5150.   


1989, Cinema Paradiso, Italy

2006, The Lives of Others, Germany

1951, Rashomon, Japan

1998, Life Is Beautiful, Italy

1957, La Strada, Italy

1949, The Bicycle Thief, Italy

2011, A Separation, Iran

1975, Dersu Uzala, Soviet Union

1967, Closely Watched Trains, Czechoslovakia

1947, Shoeshine, Italy

1963, , Italy

2009, The Secret in Their Eyes, Argentina

1983, Fanny and Alexander, Sweden

1962, Sundays and Cybele, France

1965, The Shop on Main Street, Czechoslovakia

1986, The Assault, The Netherlands

1987, Babette's Feast, France

1960, The Virgin Spring, Sweden

2002 Nowhere in Africa, Germany

1958, My Uncle, France

1968, War and Peace, Soviet Union

1957, Nights of Cabiria, Italy

2007, The Counterfeiters, Austria

1974, Amarcord, Italy

1952, Forbidden Games, France

1961, Through a Glass Darkly, Sweden

2014, Ida, Poland

2016, The Salesman, Iran

1948, Monsieur Vincent, France

2008, Departures, Japan

2015, Son of Saul, Hungary

1985, The Official Story, Argentina

1969, Z, Algeria

1966, A Man and a Woman, France

1973, Day for Night, France

1990, Journey of Hope, Switzerland

1982, Begin the Beguine, Spain

1993, Belle Époque, Spain

1959, Black Orpheus, France

1992, Indochine, France

1988, Pelle the Conqueror, Denmark

2005, Tsotsi, South Africa

1977, Madame Rosa, France

1981, Mephisto, Hungary

1954, Gate of Hell, Japan

2010, In a Better World, Denmark

2001, No Man's Land, Bosnia and Herzegovina

1976, Black and White and in Color, Ivory Coast

1979, The Tin Drum, West Germany

1996, Kolya, Czech Republic

1994,  Burnt by the Sun, Russia

2012, Amour, France

2013, The Great Beauty, Italy

1997, Character, Netherlands

2014, The Sea Inside, Spain

1995, Antonia's Line, Netherlands

1991, Mediterraneo, Italy

1984, Dangerous Moves, France

1999, All About My Mother, Spain

1950, The Walls of Malapaga, France/Italy (not ranked)