Trans, Tenderly (Film Thoughts: Lingua Franca)

I sometimes make fun of Netflix content. It’s so commercial nowadays, and it is very tough to find something meaningful to watch. If there is anything remotely good, it is so overhyped that I get indifferent right away – sometimes to my loss, for sure. So it is a treat for me when I discover something there that I truly can champion. And I found one, in Isabel Sandoval’s Lingua Franca.

The film has already made waves at last year’s Venice Film Festival, and was acquired by Ava DuVernay’s distribution company, and now Netflix is streaming it, assuring it will reach an audience willing to seek it out.

And one should. It is the story of Olivia (played by Sandoval herself) a trans woman working as a caregiver for an elder lady in Brooklyn. her world is small, and a little dank – she spends it mostly in a dead end manner, as she sends her earnings to her mother in the Philippines, and of what’s left for her she is saving to pay a man to marry her so she could get her green card. Complications arise when she falls for the lady’s grand son, and just like Madame Butterfly and Miss Saigon, you kind of know where this is going, You watch with dread as you wait for the inevitable, but the conflict is quiet, and mostly internal – you observe it as it is not brought to your face. My favorite moment in the film is one of its most tender – when Olivia dances with the grandson to an instrumental version of ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’ and the camera zooms into Olivia’s face – you see the hope and longing in there, but you also know she knows it’s not ever going to work. This is one of the most affecting films I have seen in a while, certainly this year.

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