In Theaters

Saying goodbye is never easy. The pain and sorrow can be a lot to bear, even under the “best” of circumstances. But, when the situation becomes burdened by considerations that have no business intruding upon such a difficult process, the result can be unendurable. Such are the conditions addressed in the compelling new Chilean drama, “A Fantastic Woman” (“Una mujer fantástica”) (web site, trailer).

Businessman Orlando Onetto (Francisco Reyes) leads what appears to be a fairly comfortable life in Santiago. The 57-year-old runs a successful company and lives in a moderately upscale home. He also enjoys the companionship of his significant other, Marina (Daniela Vega), a beautiful, aspiring vocalist many years his junior with whom he’s developing a blossoming romance.

As the film opens, Orlando and Marina celebrate her birthday with dinner, drinks and dancing. She’s especially touched when Orlando tells her he’s planned a romantic getaway for the two of them. In many ways, they share a perfect evening.

Chilean businessman Orlando Onetto (Francisco Reyes, left) shares an intimate romantic moment with his partner, Marina (Daniela Vega, right), in director Sebastián Lelio’s compelling new drama, “A Fantastic Woman” (“Una mujer fantástica”). Photo by Michelle Bossy, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

But, after returning home, circumstances take a drastic turn. Orlando awakens feeling ill, not sure what’s wrong but definitely not himself. He struggles to stand up, quickly collapsing, after which Marina rushes him to the hospital. But, despite the medical staff’s efforts to stabilize his condition, Orlando dies of an apparent aneurism. Suddenly, Marina is left to sort out matters, a task that proves easier said than done. The reason: Marina, as it turns out, is “the other woman,” the love for whom Orlando abandoned his family and longtime wife, Sonia (Aline Küppenheim).

Needless to say, relations between Marina and Orlando’s family are anything but cordial. To help matters proceed as smoothly as possible, Marina contacts Orlando’s brother, Gabo (Luis Gnecco), the relative who seems most accepting of (or, more precisely, least hostile toward) the woman they blame for breaking up the family. Gabo says he’ll handle all the necessary arrangements, but, before long, others – like Sonia and Orlando’s adult son, Bruno (Nicolás Saavedra) – get  involved in things, and neither of them is nearly as conciliatory. To her credit, Sonia tries to put on a civil face and to be as diplomatic as possible, even offering to compensate Marina for any inconveniences she’ll incur as a result of Orlando’s passing. But there’s one point on which Sonia has no flexibility: She insists that Marina not attend Orlando’s memorial service or funeral, because the family wants to suffer no further embarrassment from her presence in their lives. Marina is thus forced to grieve by herself, with no formal opportunity to say goodbye.

Aspiring vocalist Marina Vidal (Daniela Vega) must confront herself and her own identity under trying circumstances in the new Oscar-nominated drama, “A Fantastic Woman” (“Una mujer fantástica”). Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

However, as soon becomes apparent, the family’s hostility toward Marina has to do with more than just her unwanted involvement with Orlando. To say more would reveal too much, but suffice it to say that she possesses qualities that the Onetto family finds objectionable, traits that made Orlando’s philandering more painful for them to endure than what others similarly situated might typically experience. But is the family justified in taking such a hostile stance? Or are they falling prey to outmoded, close-minded prejudices? Either way, Marina is left with having to face her grief alone under circumstances where her personal dignity, self-confidence and even her very identity are called into question, compounding her pain at a time when she least needs to be saddled with additional anguish.

Despite these obstacles, though, Marina remains steadfast in her resolve, both to say a proper farewell to her beloved and to assert her personal integrity. She thus demonstrates what it means to confront the challenges that would hold her back from achieving her goals and maintaining an empowered sense of self. She makes it plain for all to see what a truly fantastic woman she really is.

Chilean businessman Orlando Onetto (Francisco Reyes) leads a relatively pampered life, despite past troubles, in the engaging new romantic drama, “A Fantastic Woman” (“Una mujer fantástica”). Photo by Michelle Bossy, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Even though it sometimes feels as if director Sebastián Lelio is needlessly stringing viewers along and leaves some of the narrative’s story threads unresolved, this intriguing offering from Chile delivers a fresh twist on the other woman genre, one that’s somewhat unexpected and features previously unexplored plot devices. With a fine debut lead performance by Vega, the story captivates the further one gets into it, leaving viewers wondering how it’s all going to end up. It’s unfortunate that some of the aforementioned tidying up is left unattended to, though, for, if it had been, this might have been a truly groundbreaking cinematic release.

For its efforts, “A Fantastic Woman” has drawn considerable critical praise and its share of awards season honors, including Oscar, Golden Globe, Critics Choice and Independent Spirit Award nominations for best foreign language film. In addition, the picture was named one of the top five 2017 foreign films by the National Board of Review.

Launching a successful musical career is one of many challenges faced by Marina Vidal (Daniela Vega) in the new, Oscar-nominated drama, “A Fantastic Woman” (“Una mujer fantástica”). Photo by Michelle Bossy, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Regardless of how one might feel about the morality of Orlando’s and Marina’s behavior, the film nevertheless makes plain its viewpoint on an individual’s right to grieve the loss of a loved one. It also shines a spotlight on the questionable practice of shaming someone for who he or she is, especially in a time of sorrow. No one deserves to be treated so callously, and we should always bear that in mind, no matter who they are.

A full review will appear in the near future by clicking here.

Unmasking Genius

Geniuses are often misunderstood during their lifetimes. Their eccentricities and alternative viewpoints frequently draw criticisms – sometimes even ostracism – from contemporaries who fail (or refuse) to understand and appreciate them for what they are. In later times, their contributions to humanity often seem patently (and obviously) brilliant. But, in getting to that point, we must first examine how they arrived at their insights, assessing the influences that helped to make them who they were and what their accomplishments are, ideas explored in the engaging, fact-based biopic, “A Quiet Passion” (web site, trailer), available on DVD, Blu-ray disc and video on demand.

Nineteenth Century American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) (Cynthia Nixon) is widely regarded as one of the greatest wordsmiths of all time. Her thoughtful, emotive, enigmatic verse is seen as some of the best poetry ever composed. But where did it come from? How did those insightful stanzas arise? That’s what “A Quiet Passion” seeks to explore.

In bringing Dickinson’s story to life, director Terence Davies attempts to show viewers the many influences that inspired the poet’s work, much of it based in fact, some of it somewhat fictionalized for dramatic effect. Regardless of the authenticity of these inspirations, however, the filmmaker effectively presents them to depict how they helped shape Emily’s thinking and finished works.

The mind and motivations of 19th Century American poet Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon) are explored in director Terence Davies’s fact-based biopic, “A Quiet Passion.” Photo © A Quiet Passion/Hurricane Films, courtesy of Music Box Films.

For instance, Dickinson’s disdain for the control-based aspects of religion figures largely in her outlook and output. Believing that one can come to know the divine for oneself – without others having to dictate how to do so – plays a significant role in her worldview and writings, a development brought about in large part from her schooling at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, a women’s college that, though officially nondenominational, nevertheless encouraged regular and rigorous religious participation. The aversion to such a dogmatically prescribed notion by a young, independently minded Emily (Emma Bell) undoubtedly helped frame her perspective, even if it was generally met with stern derision by university staff, like the stoic Miss Lyon (Sara Louise Vertongen).

In fact, such questioning of officialdom, authority and arbitrarily sanctioned institutions played a large role in much of Dickinson’s thinking. She abhorred the concept of slavery, as well as the second-class treatment accorded to women of the day. In turn, she wouldn’t hesitate to make her opinion known, especially to the men in her life, such as her father (Keith Carradine) and brother (Duncan Duff), as well as the newspaper owner who published her works (Trevor Cooper). What’s more, she often gravitated toward those of like mind, such as her free-spirited friend Vryling Buffam (Catherine Bailey), and routinely came to the defense of those whom she believed were being treated wrongly, such as her sister-in-law, Susan (Jodhi May). She also sought to inspire others who might all too easily capitulate to the whims of others, such as her sister, Vinnie (Jennifer Ehle).

The complex relationship of American poet Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon, left) and her often-stern father (Keith Carradine, right) is one of many complicated personal interactions explored in the fact-based biopic, “A Quiet Passion,” available on DVD, Blu-ray disk and video on demand. Photo © A Quiet Passion/Hurricane Films, courtesy of Music Box Films.

However, because Dickinson often saw the world so clearly, no matter what façades others may have tried to put up about it, she frequently fell into bouts of melancholy, a condition that grew more pronounced and prevalent over time. This disheartened outlook, combined with the sorrow that came with the loss of loved ones, the senseless horror of the American Civil War and her own failing physical health, led Emily to become increasingly secluded within the confines of the family home. She rarely left the house and even began speaking to others – including family members – from behind the closed door of her room.

Yet, despite the troubled nature of her worldview, it wasn’t enough to deter Dickinson from writing, and the influences that went into the formation of this outlook became reflected in her verse. Samples of this work, presented through voiceover narrations by the protagonist, appear throughout the film, fittingly accentuating the events unfolding on screen, functioning like cinematic epigraphs to help set the tone for the action playing out at the time. The result is an enlightening portrait of an inspired, if burdened mind.

Appropriately titled, “A Quiet Passion” aptly captures the essence of Dickinson’s world and mindset, showing viewers how she came to be who she was. Nixon delivers a superb performance as the conflicted soul, effectively depicting the many moods, from reflectiveness to desperation, of the troubled protagonist. The film also contains some of 2017’s best writing, with a screenplay that deftly combines wit, poignancy, sagacity and resolute indignance, revealing the many sides of a poetic enigma. Admittedly, the picture has some pacing issues, perhaps an unavoidable problem given the nature of the narrative (and one that may not even be resolvable with editing tweaks). However, despite this issue, the film is worthwhile viewing as long as you’re not in any hurry to get to the end.

Poet Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon, left) enjoys a quiet moment in the garden with her sister, Vinnie (Jennifer Ehle, right), in “A Quiet Passion.” Photo © A Quiet Passion/Hurricane Films, courtesy of Music Box Films.

Appreciating geniuses usually takes some effort – getting to know the individuals, the thoughts that go into their thinking and the true meaning behind their work. Failing to do so may cause us to lose out on becoming acquainted with a truly inspired mind. Thankfully, films like “A Quiet Passion” help to show us what we can avail ourselves of when we make that effort – and the rewards that can come from doing so.

A full review will appear in the near future by clicking here.

Here Come the Oscars!

Who will come up the winners in this year’s Academy Awards? Find out when tuning in to this week’s edition of Frankiesense & More with yours truly and host Frankie Picasso. Check the Facebook page of The Good Media Network for details. And watch for my upcoming detailed analysis of the competition’s top six categories on my web site’s Blog Page.

Copyright © 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.