Berlin (AFP) - Daniela Vega, the transgender star of Chilean movie "A Fantastic Woman", wowed the Berlin film festival Sunday with a breakout performance as a trailblazer.
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.
Audiences at preview screenings cheered Vega's bold and moving portrayal ahead of the picture's red-carpet premiere in the German capital late Sunday. Some compared the film to Pedro Almodovar's best work.
"A Fantastic Woman" was directed by Sebastian Lelio, whose "Gloria" garnered rave reviews and the best actress prize at the Berlin festival in 2013, and co-produced by fellow Chilean Pablo Larrain and Germany's Maren Ade.
Both Larrain ("Jackie") and Ade ("Toni Erdmann") have films nominated for Oscars this month.
"A Fantastic Woman" traces Marina's 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 -- and condemn her relationship with Orlando as "perverse".
They bar her from the funeral, kick her out of the apartment she and Orlando intended to share and even take 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.
Calling on the reserves of strength it has taken for her to forge her path in an often conservative macho society, Marina refuses to go quietly.
Vega said Marina had "limited space in which to live freely in Santiago, but she finds it -- you can see that's what makes her so fantastic, so appealing".
"She finds a way to spread her wings and fly."
- Transgender hurdles -
Vega admitted that most societies in the world still had trouble accepting transgender people -- even as they become more visible in Western pop culture -- but that the story had more universal appeal.
"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," she said.
"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."
She and Lelio acknowledged that while tolerance had grown in much of the world, there were no guarantees that freedoms gained would be protected for ever.
"We are going through a moment that is very fragile and delicate. It seems there is a movement to turn back progress," he said.
"We are seeing walls go up and borders are fortified and people are being labelled and put in boxes. I think we need to ask what kind of world we want."
Lelio is currently working on his first English-language feature, "Disobedience" starring Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams.
"A Fantastic Woman" is one of 18 contenders for the Golden Bear top prize on Saturday.