Lingua Franca (2019) *** Venice Film Festival

September 6th, 2019
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Isabel Sandoval; Cast: Isabel Sandoval, Lynn Cohen, Eamon Farren; USA/Philippines 2019, 94′ 

Philippines born US-based Isabel Sandoval is the director, writer, actor, editor and co-producer of this semi-autobiographical labour of love. Her portrait of Olivia, a New York trans woman living in permanent fear of deportation by the ICE, tackles a worthwhile subject with boring results.

Olivia (Sandoval) is a post-op trans Filipina working as a live-in home help for Jewish matriarch Olga (Cohen) in Brighton Beach, New York. Olga is scrambling on the foothills of Alzheimers, but when her big family clan meets, she dominates the proceedings just like in the olden days. With no Green Card Olivia is haunted by her fear of deportation, and has pinned all her hopes on marriage to her boyfriend who she pays in instalments. But her man has found a better offer, and the money has been spent in vain. Then along comes 29-year old Alex (Farren), Olga’s grandson, fresh out of rehab, but still an alcoholic drifter. He works, on and off in his uncle’s grim slaughterhouse, but is not ready to adjust to adult life. He moves in with Olivia and Olga, even though his caring efforts are not particularlyj successful. In spite of their very different psychological make-up, Olivia and Alex fall in love. Alex, an out-and-out macho, is at first unaware of Olivia’s sexual identity, and when the truth finally emerges he reacts with verbal and emotional violence. Sandoval leaves an ambiguous ending, somehow between hope and realism. Lingua Franca feels rather flaccid both plot wise and in its bland aesthetics, which are more suited to a documentary feature. Alex and Olivia make unconvincing bed-fellows: more experienced actors may have been able to ride over their stilted dialogue and lack of chemistry but this is another flaw in the film. Lingua Franca is an admirable undertaking, but sadly a wasted opportunity. AS



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