Una Mujer Fantástica

Matthew Herbert

" What I find remarkable is that Herbert’s score is so overwhelmingly strong in capturing a suppressed, uneasy feeling throughout, while also alluding to a softer emotional state. "

Written by Joep de Bruijn - Review of the regular release

Una Mujer Fantástica (A Fantastic Woman) is a 2017 Chilean film directed by Sebastián Lelio and is carried by a the strong performance of Daniela Vega. The music is composed by the British Matthew Herbert, known for his electronic music and his work as a DJ, while already having written some fines scores to film like La confiance règne, Vida y color, Agathe Cléry (in collaboration with Bruno Coulais) and Life in a Day (with Harry Gregson-Williams).

The film tells the story of Marina, a young transgender waitress who moonlights as a nightclub singer, falls in love with Orlando, a divorced man who is a few decades older. As they plan for their future together, Orlando suddenly falls ill and dies. Marina is forced to confront his ex-wife, who doesn’t want anything to do with Marina and asks her not to come to the funeral. Over the next few days, as Marina tries to get things in order, she has to endure insults and slurs from the police and Orlando’s family members.

Its opening cue (Titles) is stunning orchestral Herrmannesque musical piece that reflects the inner soul of Marina. The whirling performances of the woodwinds with a fascinating eerie layer of strings provide a mood of mixed feelings, as she is trapped in a world full of prejudice people. The set of passionate and yet cold strings have a certain kind of grace and uneasiness to themselves, while the whirling woodwinds seem also add to the unresolved matters that are to follow. The main titles are reprised on numerous occasions, while also using elements of the main titles that are spread throughout the rest of the score, sometimes in small phrases, as is the case with the whirling woodwinds. The composer uses this particular phrase in a playful classical environment (Fountain), or in cues that include more atmospheric and brooding (partly) electronic takes.

What I find remarkable is that Herbert’s score is so overwhelmingly strong in capturing a suppressed, uneasy feeling throughout, while also alluding to a softer emotional state. The (atmospheric and dissonant) electronic parts of his musical palette are so well chosen and their haunting quality, in combination with the classical sound, really are some of the most impressive I have heard in a very long time. Another notable element is a fragile little melody, mostly performed by a solo flute in cues such as Taxi and Kidnap, while the composer also composed it for a subdued saxophone (like Glasses) and even for a ’crashing and screeching’ electronic sound (Kidnap).

Another important musical role is laid out for Marina’s career as a soprano. Actress Daniele Vega is a gifted singer and they incorporated the idea in the screenplay. Both Sposa Son Disprezzata, and Ombra Mai Fu, are well known classical pieces, and even though there have been prior recordings that exceed the performances of Daniela, they are of significant symbolic value to development of the main character. Ombra Mai Fu provides a fitting sense of closure at the very end of the film.

And last, Una Mujer Fantástica features several musical scenes in a Chilean nightclub and this if where Herbert continues his previous experiences as an electronic musician and DJ. While I am impressed with great use of electronic components in his score, these propulsive electronic club music are in a whole other league. They are functional in context of the film and that is as far as I could go on critical level. It is just that they don’t evoke an actual emotional response from me and unfortunately they do hurt the listening experience of this otherwise impressive film score.

Una Mujer Fantástica is a great achievement by Matthew Herbert and shows his abilities to contribute a strong musical voice to the film. As noted in the previous paragraph, the Milan release is slightly lacking on the level of the listening experience. Nonetheless, I am very happy that the music label released one of the best scores of 2017 both on CD and download in 2018.

1. Titles 3:12
2. Illness 4:05
3. Away 2:03
4. Hospital 1:36
5. Glasses 1:17
6. Trapped 0:56
7. Sposa Son Disprezzata (Daniela Vega) 1:34
8. Fountain 1:41
9. Turn 1:34
10. Escape 0:40
11. Warehouse 3:41
12. Queen 5:25
13. Kidnap 2:52
14. Manicure 2:29
15. Key 1:30
16. Sauna 3:17
17. Taxi 2:10
18. Cemetery 2:35
19. Farewell 3:23
20. Ombra mai fu (Daniela Vega) 2:52
21. Periódico De Ayer (Fernanda Carreño) 2:02

Total Album Time: 50:54
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Released by

Milan Records (regular release 2018)