Written by: Isabel Sandoval
Starring: Isabel Sandoval, Eamon Farren, Lynn Cohen, Lev Gorn, Magen Channell
Living in a constant state of fear creates the feeling of there being no safe haven that can properly protect you. A general sensibility captured in the moving and enlightening Lingua Franca. The tale of an immigrant experience not made with the melodrama it could potentially display and done so through a singularly personal perspective.
Hoping to marry someone for a green card, Olivia (Isabel Sandoval) lives in constant fear of being deported and continually faces the complications of the legalization process. Through her work, she meets the grandson of the woman she provides care for, Alex (Eamon Farren). Despite the issues they each battle, they come together to strike a romance and may potentially provide a lifeline for each other.
Deeply personal in the way it gets told, Lingua Franca feels like such an authentic story. It does not come with grand sweeping moments, which a narrative of this type has the potential to be. Pain certainly exists, but when you can be deported at any time, things just have to get done in order to finally have a level of safety and certainty in life. Olivia battles with this struggle throughout this movie as she needs to find a man willing to marry her. She cares not for finding true love as a prerequisite, as she’s willing to pay to expedite the process. This process would be the only way to fully put a shield of Immigration always weighing on her mind.
The understated nature of this film may surprise many, but it highlights what makes this story worth watching. Everything happening with Olivia details a life where she has a mother back home asking for money and her trying to keep a brave face in front of everyone else. So much of the story lies internally with this lead character, which allows the addition of Alex as a good converse to this story. He has struggles with alcoholism and through the conversations he has with other characters, it can be assumed he has burned some bridges only family members would be willing to repair. He gets a brand new start by staying with his grandmother, thus sharing the same roof now as Olivia, who works as the caregiver. Their paths cross at highly impactful moments in their lives where they need someone. Olivia more so for her own safety while Alex needs someone to anchor him somehow.
The dynamic set between them creates this unease because Olivia is a transgender woman and everything the film presents about Alex and his friends does not point to the idea of him being tolerant of her identity. When they begin their romantic courtship, it builds some unease because they work well together but at some point, Alex will learn about Olivia and the results have the potential to be unsavory. While this unease stays within the story, Olivia’s identity, in the story overall, just exists for what it is. It highlights a woman well past the transition phase where all the operations are complete. She’s living her life just the way she wants, which feels refreshing. It does not center on the pain of her identity, but rather the terrible circumstances of being an undocumented immigrant in a constant state of fear ICE will eventually find her.
Directing, writing, and starring, Lingua Franca is a completely imagined project by Isabel Sandoval. She works wonders with this story as its genuineness stands out as one of its greatest features. Telling this story inspired by her own displays someone who knows this particular struggle and documents what this everyday feeling of being unsafe puts on someone’s conscience. Olivia works everyday and sustains a lifestyle not only for herself, but also sending money back to her mother. However, the dependency she needs from another man for marriage takes away the ability to have complete control of her circumstances. She does not have time for love, she needs an anchor amid the storm.
Moving in its portrayal and something so singularly made, Lingua Franca takes its time with the story and by the end, it sets the reality also while providing some semblance of hope. Isabel Sandoval truly stands out with her directorial work in setting the mood of this piece and honestly portraying the journey to safety many individuals in this scenario face.