AFI Fest 2019: Lingua Franca

Isabel Sandoval in Lingua Franca.

Lingua Franca happens to shine a spotlight on transgender representation by way of a film that places a strong focus on immigration.

When it comes to transgender representation on screen, there is a right way and wrong way.  The wrong way is to make a character trans just for the sake of being trans.  It is in this instance that a trans character becomes–more or less–a gimmick and really doesn’t serve the film.  This is the beauty of films like Lingua Franca and The Garden Left Behind.  Both films are telling important stories but a character’s gender identity takes a backseat to their immigration status.

Olivia (Isabel Sandoval) cares for Olga (Lynn Cohen), an elderly Russian Jew living in Brooklyn.  The thing the film asks us to know about Olivia is that she’s an undocumented immigrant.  In fact, the film plays up this focus by way of the political talk on the radio.  All Olivia wants is a green card but unfortunately, she’s running out of options.  One paid arrangement took a turn for the worst so Olivia is in dire need of a solution.  Enter Olga’s grandson, Alex (Eamon Farren), and the two strike up a relationship.  Going into the relationship, Alex has zero knowledge of Olivia being transgender.

What happens when Alex learns Olivia is trans?  I’ll let you find out when you watch the film.  I’ll put it this way:  he isn’t a chaser but he certainly needs to search deep down inside.  For Olivia, romance feels like a necessity in order to stay in the USA.  At the same time, Olivia views the idea as something of an inconvenience.  All in all, the two of them are on different paths in their life.

Sandoval draws upon her own experiences to tell this story.  Her experiences as a transgender woman of color and an immigrant inform her worldview in a way that others probably won’t be able to see.  For example, Olivia is paying to secure a green card marriage.  This is something that isn’t uncommon for Filipino immigrants.  Could the marriages be happening less under this climate?  Probably.  However, Sandoval’s experiences give this film a feeling of authenticity.

This film made history upon being selected for competition during the 2019 Giornate degli Autori (Venice Days).  It’s not often that you have a transgender person directing, writing, and starring in a film.  But to be selected for one of the biggest film festivals is simply unheard of.  When it comes to this year’s AFI Fest, the film is one of three films with a transgender focus.

Lingua Franca is just one of many stories out there when it comes to the transgender experience.

CAST:  Isabel Sandoval, Eamon Farren, Ivory Aquino, P.J. Boudousqué, Lev Gorn, and Lynn Cohen

Lingua Franca held its North American premiere during AFI Fest 2019. Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.