Sunday, August 23, 2020

Movie with Abe: Lingua Franca

Lingua Franca
Directed by Isabel Sandoval
Released August 26, 2020 (Netflix)

Privilege exists in a society in a way that often isn’t apparent or even discernable to those who have it. Passing through places without being questioned is a luxury that only feels that way when it’s clear that others aren’t able to do so, and there are additional freedoms to move and travel without stressing too much about the validity of identification and everything on it being up to date. Someone who hasn’t been forced to monitor their actions may not apply themselves as much to a particular task or job because the consequences, for them, can never be all that severe.

Olivia (Isabel Sandoval) works as a caregiver for the elderly Olga (Lynn Cohen) in Brighton Beach. Olivia struggles through the process of becoming a legal resident of the United States, trying to secure a marriage to obtain her green card while balancing the additional obstacles of being a trans woman. Olga’s grandson, Alex (Eamon Farren), has a terrible reputation with his family after multiple messes, and he gets a new chance at a slaughterhouse job with his uncle that might help him repair those fractured relationships. His unexpected interest in Olivia serves as yet another distraction to his uneasy road back toward stability.

This film made its momentous debut at last year’s Venice Film Festival as the first film directed by and starring an openly trans woman of color. It simultaneously tackles multiple subjects that feel deeply relevant and timely, examining the inequality that is rarely even acknowledged because its absence is so unimaginable for those who have never had to question what it is they don’t have. It may be seen as a political film calling for the rights of trans and undocumented people, but at its heart it is a story of human existence at the intersection of societal discrimination.

Sandoval, a Filipino filmmaker based in the United States known for her two previous feature films, “Señorita” and “Apparition,” delivers an extraordinarily quiet and unassuming performance, one that demonstrates Olivia’s purposeful attempts not to raise eyebrows or draw unwanted attention while at the same time affirming her knowledge of caregiving and the validity of her opinions. Farren is far less controlled and much more prone to explosive outbursts, underlining this film’s poignant capturing of the divide between those for whom expression of self has consequences and those for whom it does not. This subtly powerful film is effective in its unambitious aim to present a solemn examination of the way in which people from different worlds see and influence each other.


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