SQIFF Review: Lingua Franca

Year: 2020

Runtime: 89 minutes

Director: Isabel Sandoval

By Jenni Holtz

Writer, director, and actor Isabel Sandoval’s “Lingua Franca” (2020) is an emotional, romantic drama that breaks new ground for Filipinx and transgender representation. Set in Trump’s America, the film is both timely and timeless. Olivia (Isabel Sandoval) is a Filipina trans woman living in Brooklyn, NY. There, she takes care of an elderly Russian woman, Olga (Lynn Cohen) and her grandson Alex (Eamon Farren). Throughout the feature, there are reminders of the impact of Trump’s presidency including ICE raids and strict, ever-changing immigration policies. Capturing America under the 45th president, “Lingua Franca” is extremely well-timed. Yet, the issues Olivia faces have long been struggles for trans women of color, making the film as timeless as it is timely. 

Olivia is juggling a lot. Between caregiving work, financially supporting her mother, hiding her immigration status, and getting a green card, Olivia faces serious stress. All the while, she deals with xenophobia, racism, and transphobia from people and immigration policies. She and Alex develop a relationship, but he doesn’t know everything about her past, causing tensions to rise. The film progresses at a natural pace, driven by the emotions of Olivia and Alex.

The filmmaking is beautiful, marked by well-placed close-ups, seamless transitions, and creative continuous shots. Paired with the complex, realistic story, “Lingua Franca” is entrancing from start to finish as it takes you along on the emotional journey of a critical part of Olivia’s life. The emotional depth is palpable, the evidence of a story told with passion and care. 

A moving character study, “Lingua Franca” is a complicated and realistic piece on what it’s like for an undocumented Filipina trans woman to exist in the world. The film serves as a crucial reminder that trans women of color are discriminated against on multiple fronts and it’s high time for things to change (and has been, for years.) The multi-talented Isabel Sandoval writes from her own experience, making a film full of intimate moments and rich storytelling. “Lingua Franca” is part of SQIFF and is available on Netflix in the United States. 

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