Vega, a film and stage actress as well as an opera singer, plays Marina, a transgender woman in love with Orlando, a much older man who dies the night of her birthday celebration.
The movie tells the tale of her battle to win the right to mourn her dead lover, against the resistance of his ex-wife and their adult son. They call her a “chimera” — a monster from Greek mythology, made from several species.
“I think no one in this world hasn’t gone through a transition in their lives, if only from being a baby to a grown-up,” Vega said last year at the Berlin film festival, where the film directed by Chile’s Sebastian Lelio won best screenplay honors.
“I moved from being a man to a woman and I’m glad I did it. This is my personal choice and this is what constitutes my humanity.”
Lelio, 43, is part of a new wave of Chilean filmmakers along with Pablo Larrain, a co-producer on this film and the director of Oscar-nominated “Jackie” (2016).
“Film should ask questions rather than deliver answers; the main goal is to shed light on something,” said Lelio, who earned international acclaim for “Gloria” (2013), another film centered on a woman in crisis.
He says it would have been unthinkable to case a non-transgender actress in the role of Marina, likening it to the scorned practice of “blackface.”
In the film, Orlando’s family bars Marina from the funeral, kicks her out of the apartment she and Orlando intended to share, and even takes away her beloved German shepherd, Diabla.
Meanwhile the police suspect Orlando’s death from an aneurysm may have involved drugs or foul play, and submit Marina to questioning and a humiliating physical exam.
With determination and grit, Marina lives her life and refuses to go away without a fight.
“She is fantastic because she finds dignity where there was none,” says Vega.
Lelio says the film was written well before transgender culture started to be “ingrained in our collective imagination.”
His first English-language feature — “Disobedience,” starring Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams as lovers in an Orthodox Jewish community in London — hits US theaters in April.