A FANTASTIC WOMAN (Una Majur Fantastica, 2017)

February 24, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. A few years ago, Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Lelio and his co-writer Gonzalo Maza delivered a terrific little indie entitled GLORIA (starring Paulina Garcia). It told the story of a single woman in her late 50’s navigating a society not designed to provide happiness for her. This time out Mr. Lelio and Mr. Maza collaborate on the story of another interesting woman, in what could easily be described as a companion piece to their previous film.

Trans actress Daniela Vega stars as Marina, a waitress who moonlights as a singer. The film begins quietly with Orlando (Francisco Reyes), a distinguished gentleman enjoying an afternoon spa treatment, before heading over to catch Marina’s singing act. See, Orlando and the much younger Marina are a couple. Their connection is obvious as they spend an evening dining, dancing, and heading to bed. Tragically, Orlando suffers an aneurysm and Marina rushes him to the hospital. When he dies, she is subjected to questioning, accusations, and a true lack of respect by most everyone – doctors, nurses, police, and Orlando’s family.

Marina is questioned by a sex crimes detective (Amparo Noguera) about her relationship with Orlando and whether she was paid or abused. The implication being that she was likely a prostitute. Orlando’s brother Gabo (Luis Gnecco), son Bruno (Nicolas Saavedra) and even ex-wife Sonia (Aline Kuppenheim) have reactions that range from passive-aggressive to threatening towards Marina and forbid her from attending the wake and funeral, and won’t even let her take the pet dog.

Cinematographer Benjamin Echazzarreta uses effectively uses light and color, and quite often has Marina front and center – either head-on or from behind. Marina’s visions and dream-like sequences allow us to understand how the stress of the situation is affecting her, and just how much she misses Orlando. She displays much inner-strength and dignity in the face of hatred and disgust … even while being treated as a criminal and/or victim – really anything except the partner she was.

The film has been nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, and it’s easy to see why. Beautifully photographed with a knockout lead performance from Daniela Vega, the story emphasizes how we so often strive for “normal” that we lose our empathy and humanity in how we treat others. Music is put to good use – even the quite obvious use of Aretha Franklin singing “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”, and there is even a clever use of a McGuffin (a locker key). This well-made film with a powerful message is a reminder to ‘keep on keeping on’.

watch the trailer:

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GLORIA (2013, Chile)

February 9, 2014

gloria Greetings again from the darkness. One of my favorite comparison points with non-U.S. films is to imagine how Hollywood might take the same story and twist it for mass appeal. It’s pretty easy to imagine this one as a flat-out comedy with Diane Keaton or Goldie Hawn in the lead. Chilean writer/director Sebastian Lelio takes a much more interesting approach giving us a real world perspective on a divorced middle-aged woman seeking companionship and emotional fulfillment.  It’s easy to understand why this one has been a film festival favorite.

Paulina Garcia plays Gloria, a professional woman who embraces the free-spirited lifestyle that being long divorced allows. She has two adult children who are doing just fine in life, and a neighbor with noisy habits and a bothersome hairless cat. Gloria enjoys singing outloud to the car radio, and drinking and dancing at a local nightclub while maintaining hope that a worthy life companion is still in the cards. In other words, she is neither superwoman nor emotional train wreck. And thanks to the exceptional talents of Ms. Garcia, we are drawn to Gloria and care what happens.

We witness Gloria’s flirtatious glances across the dance floor to Rodolfo (Sergio Hernandez). We next witness a middle-aged bedroom encounter that doesn’t take advantage of the body-double directory. Once the girdle is removed (his), the two adults enjoy the moment, while vividly reminding us that all actors (and certainly all people) don’t look like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Companionship has always been based on emotions, not aesthetics … despite Hollywood’s efforts to prove otherwise.

One of the more interesting aspects of following the relationship between Rodolfo and Gloria is that, in life, we all carry baggage. Sometimes our own baggage is easier to deal with than that of others. The birthday party for Gloria’s son and the ongoing crisis with Rodolfo’s ex-wife and daughters convey just how difficult it can be to recognize the effects of such scenarios.

The class of this sub-genre is the 1978 film An Unmarried Woman with Jill Clayburgh. Of course, in that one, Ms. Clayburgh was significantly younger than the Gloria character here. Still, some of the obstacles are similar and both feature terrific lead performances from actresses. The role of music in Gloria’s life is especially poignant. At one party, there is a wonderful duet of “Aquas de Marco” (Waters of March) originally written by Antonio Carlos (Tom) Jobim. The song and the movie are about the daily progressions of life. The ending is especially spot on thanks to Gloria’s response to the original version of “Gloria” by Umberto Tozzi (re-made in the U.S. by Laura Branigan).

It’s quite easy to view this story through Gloria’s eyes and fully understand her “grow some” comment. However, for a different perspective, try looking at things through Rodolfo’s eyes. Maybe Gloria is a bit more self-centered than what she appears at first glance. There are a couple of scenes … the mirror and the peacock … that hint at this same ideal. This appears to be Mr. Lelio’s way of telling us that life is just not that simple and that we all have defense mechanisms that impact how we are perceived by others. It’s just not as clear-cut as the initial reaction.

**NOTE: this was Chile’s submission for Foreign Language Oscar, but it did not make the final cut.

watch the trailer: