Tag Archives: Isabel Sandoval

The Work of Dreaming in the Horror of the Real — “Lingua Franca”

We lived behind a broken door. We lived in a city hidden from the city.”

– Martin Espada, “Isabel’s Corrido”

She is constantly moving away from you the only way she can.
She never turns her face from you because of what you might do.
She will outlive everything you know.”

– Joshua Jennifer Espinoza, “The Moon is Trans”

There are films that – when you come out of them – make everything feel more real. Looking out a window to the lights at night, hearing the sound of passing cars, feeling a wooden floor under your bare feet. There’s a texture to it all that you skipped before. It’s not because the film made these things more real. It’s because the film so thoroughly took you into someone else’s experience that you left your own for a time. “Lingua Franca” is a transporting film, real and calm and sudden and stark and beautiful and terrifying.

So what is “Lingua Franca”? The movie’s a realistic drama about a home care assistant and the son of the woman she cares for falling in love. It’s one of the great romantic films I’ve ever seen. It’s also a subtle horror movie that builds its intensity slowly.

Olivia is a Filipina immigrant. She’s a home care worker for Olga, who suffers from dementia. Olga’s son Alex has just returned home. He strikes up a romance with Olivia, who is trying to get married in order to stay in the U.S. He doesn’t know that Olivia is trans, and Olivia lives in increasing fear that she’ll be deported by ICE. If it seems like you know what plot points to expect from that set-up, this isn’t a movie that’s obsessed with turning the screws on plot complications. It’s more patient and experiential with its story, and feels all the more real for it.

Isabel Sandoval wrote, directed, and stars in “Lingua Franca”. The writing feels natural for the most part. There are one or two brief early flashes of exposition through dialogue that might be better shown another away, but they pass quickly and establish what we need to know. There’s a calm, almost procedural storytelling foundation that lends a solidity to the film. In turn, this enables an often dreamlike presentation, poignant themes that build and lurk within that solid structure, and realistically emotional performances that fill out every corner of every scene in “Lingua Franca”.

Sandoval’s directing is lyrical. She fuses together elements from so many genres, but always in a gentle, patient, subtle manner. She selectively uses takes where an actor might start a line twice, or where two step on each others’ lines without breaking character. This reflects real ways that people speak: interruptive, halting, awkward. She establishes a tone that’s surreal around the edges. She increasingly uses visual and editing cues that we’re used to seeing in horror. They’re deeply effective, and make us inhabit the paranoia of an immigrant who lives in constant fear of ICE.

All the acting here feels like you could reach out and touch these people, like they live down the block, or the next city over. They all feel so real, so flawed and hopeful and human. Sandoval delivers what I might end up calling the best performance of the year. It’s one thing for an actress to make you feel what she’s feeling, to make you long or cry or feel despondent. It’s another for her to remind you of the times you felt that way, to make you identify so fiercely with the moment she’s feeling that you reach into the past and feel that moment in yourself again. That’s the difference between watching a great film and feeling it – when what’s been beautiful or painful in your life can sit beside the beauty or pain in someone else’s.

What film might do best, what acting might achieve better than anything else, is to allow your vulnerabilities to find a space there on screen where they aren’t alone, where you can feel something awful in a less lonely way because someone else is showing you they know what it is, too. I don’t mean to compare the nature of the experiences – Olivia’s journey is different from mine and lacks access to many privileges I enjoy. What I mean to say is that seeing a character cry like I have in my very worst moments, stare into space like I have in my most devastated moments – it’s rare to see that reflected in a way that doesn’t feel at all like acting. It just feels like being. “Lingua Franca” can take you well past empathy, and into understanding.

That’s where “Lingua Franca” is strongest. When the credits roll, these people all exist. These people all feel real. Their experiences are something you didn’t just witness, but that you felt. There aren’t many films from the perspective of an immigrant that get made. There aren’t many films from the perspective of trans people that get made. There’s an unfair burden placed on marginalized people that the few films that are about them have to be knocked out of the park, or else more won’t get made. Films about immigrants or trans people, or by a trans immigrant, shouldn’t carry any more burden to make characters feel real than any other movie. Yet they must because these are the people most thoroughly dehumanized every day in our society, through every piece of media we have.

We place an impossible standard on stories told to us by the most marginalized, and “Lingua Franca” doesn’t just meet and surpass that standard, it withers it, it shows it as pointless not because the story directly engages that standard, but rather because its characters are just as real as each other, are just as emotionally relevant, are just as human and just as scared and just as heartbroken and dissatisfied and resilient and balanced between shattered and whole as the viewer.

When countless movies about people just like me feel fake and inhuman, and one about a trans immigrant feels like the most identifiable, lovingly, terrifyingly human experience I’ve seen this year, that’s important and needs to be seen and talked about and appreciated.

The first things I saw when I clicked off my rough draft of this review and looked at the news – the first was about transphobe J.K. Rowling’s new book and its horrible vilification of trans people. The second was about ICE forcing hysterectomies on immigrant women they hold prisoner – forced sterilization is a qualifier of genocide.

I have no concluding thought for that. I have no way to wrap that up. “Lingua Franca” is about beautiful, meaningful, complex people who are struggling to attain something reliable in their lives amid hate and oppression. Fight for them in some way that’s meaningful. If we don’t, what the hell good are we?

Does “Lingua Franca” Pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

This section uses the Bechdel-Wallace Test as a foundation to discuss the representation of women in film.

1. Does “Lingua Franca” have more than one woman in it?

Yes. Isabel Sandoval plays Olivia, the central character. Lynn Cohen plays Olga, an elderly woman with dementia. Ivory Aquino plays Trixie, a good friend of Olivia’s. Megan Channell plays Milla, and Shiloh Verrico plays Maggie, both family members of love interest Murray. There are other women with very brief speaking parts.

2. Do they talk to each other?


3. About something other than a man?

Yes. Olivia is a home care worker for Olga. Some of their dialogue is about Olga’s late husband, but much of it is about day-to-day activities and what Olga wants.

Olivia speaks with Trixie about her immigration status, her fears about ICE, and their shared past about growing up knowing they were women. Given that her immigration status is connected to marriage, these things sometimes interweave with conversations about men, but this is only a part of their conversation.

Milla and Maggie briefly talk about Maggie’s school performance.

This is a film that very much centers around the experiences of women. Olivia’s romantic interest Murray and his struggles do get a substantial amount of screen time (I’d think of him as more of a 1b lead to Olivia’s 1a, rather than as a supporting role), but the story and perspective being shared for the majority of the film are Olivia’s.

“Lingua Franca” can be watched on Netflix.

If you enjoy what you read on this site, consider subscribing to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.

New Shows + Movies by Women — August 28, 2020

Movies are starting to make it back to theaters, but here in the U.S. going back right now is irresponsible. So long as coronavirus continues to be a threat, and the Trump administration refuses to treat it seriously, I will not be covering theatrical debuts. More than 180,000 people have already died in the U.S. from COVID-19 – over a fifth of the world’s deaths from this – and our number is likely drastically under-counted.

It’s irresponsible to encourage people to go to the theater when doing so will only mean they risk their own health, the health of their families, and the health and safety of those they meet on a day to day basis. Among others, this puts low-wage workers across the service industry at considerable risk. They’re not our martyrs so we can enjoy a popcorn.

I’ll continue to cover movies that debut theatrically only when they make it to home viewing options. I wish I could see a point when this would change, but it seems a long way off right now.


Masaba Masaba (Netflix)
showrunner Sonam Nair

Masaba Gupta is an Indian fashion designer. Her mother is prolific Indian actress Neena Gupta. “Masaba Masaba” stars the two of them in a comedy where they portray…themselves. It’s entirely scripted and framed as a narrative comedy, so there’s no reality TV element here. The characters the two portray are simply fictionalized versions of themselves.

Showrunner Sonam Nair has written and directed on a few different Indian TV series.

You can watch “Masaba Masaba” on Netflix.

Love in the Time of Corona (Freeform)
directed by Joanna Johnson

This miniseries is composed of 4 half-hour(ish) episodes about love and relationships during COVID-19.

Joanna Johnson wrote and directed several episodes of “The Fosters”, and created TV series “Hope & Faith” and “Good Trouble”.

You can watch “Love in the Time of Corona” on Freeform.


Lingua Franca (Netflix)
directed by Isabel Sandoval

An undocumented Filipina is working as a caregiver for an elderly woman. She’s paying a man to marry her so she can get her green card, but he backs out of the agreement. She becomes involved with the grandson of the woman she cares for, but the man doesn’t know that she’s transgender.

Star Isabel Sandoval also wrote and directed the film. This is her third feature. Sandoval is trans, which feels important to highlight only because of the subject matter of the film.

You can watch “Lingua Franca” on Netflix.

The One and Only Ivan (Disney+)
directed by Thea Sharrock

A gorilla has been raised by humans. He performs in a circus, yet dreams of being free in the wilderness where he grew up. When a baby elephant arrives freshly captured from the wild, he begins to question why he’s there and plan their escape.

Thea Sharrock is the director of “Me Before You”. Prior to that, she directed episodes of “Call the Midwife” and “The Hollow Crown”. The film is based on a book by Katherine Applegate. This release got moved up a week, so it’s something I missed in last week’s feature.

You can watch “The One and Only Ivan” on Disney+.

Given (Crunchyroll)
directed by Hikaru Yamaguchi

Four men started a rock band together. Soon, they formed two romantic pairs as well. “Given” follows their trials and triumphs in romance and as bandmates. It was adapted from the manga as a series last year. The film premiering now is a sequel to that series which adapts the manga’s second arc.

Director Hikaru Yamaguchi oversaw the series and returns for the film.

You can watch both the series and the new film for “Given” on Crunchyroll.

The Roads Not Taken (Hulu)
directed by Sally Potter

Javier Bardem stars as a man suffering dementia. His daughter, played by Elle Fanning, helps him through his day, as he lives fragmented parallel versions of his life that don’t match up.

You may know writer-director Sally Potter best for her 1992 adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando”, starring Tilda Swinton. Most directors of classic and stunningly unique films from this era would be remembered, their name immediately recognized like a Terry Gilliam, Jim Jarmusch, or Richard Linklater. Not so for Potter and a number of women who came to directing in the 1980s and 90s. The indie fringes and the places where avant garde and meta could burrow into the mainstream were reserved for men.

In the 90s, a man who had directed a film as visionary as “Orlando” would’ve been embraced, championed as a counter-culture auteur, perhaps by someone like Harvey Weinstein. When a woman like Sally Potter did it, there was no follow-through by powerful producers, no corresponding interest in what she did next, no financiers or studio heads chasing her down with dreams of Oscar-season ad campaigns. I wonder at the career Sally Potter might have had after “Orlando”. How would film be different if doors had been thrown open for her and other women directors the way they were being thrown open for men?

I featured this previously when it came to rental. This is the first time it’s hit a subscription service.

You can watch “The Roads Not Taken” on Hulu, or see where to rent it right here.

Rogue (VOD)
directed by M.J. Bassett

Mercenaries have to rescue a woman in Africa, facing off against the rebels who kidnapped her and a group of man-hunting lions.

I’ve always thought Megan Fox got maligned for doing what she could to haul a number of disasters across the finish line: “Jonah Hex”, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Transformers” movies included.

I named her role in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” one of the Most Thankless Roles of 2014 since she was the only human being involved in that mess who actually seemed to be putting forth any effort, yet she was uniquely blamed for failures that she had nothing to do with. So if she wants to go fistfight lions, it’s not like I ever judged Liam Neeson for fistfighting wolves.

Director M.J. Bassett has a long history helming clever genre fare, having directed multiple episodes of “Ash vs Evil Dead”, “Power”, and “Altered Carbon”.

You can see where to rent “Rogue” right here.

DieRy (VOD)
directed by Jennifer Gelfer

Marie is an Instagram model. An obsessed fan steals her diary, and decides to target anyone they perceive as a threat to her. Marie needs the help of those around her, who may also be her prime suspects.

This is director Jennifer Gelfer’s second feature, after 2018’s “The Second Sun”.

You can rent “DieRy” on Amazon.


The Vow (HBO docu-series)
co-showrunner Jehane Noujaim

NXIVM was a cult whose leader was convicted of sex trafficking and racketeering. It posed itself as a self-improvement movement, but the organization behind it served as a way to recruit women into a form of sexual slavery to leader Keith Raniere and his inner circle.

That inner circle was successfully prosecuted on various charges – the most famous member being former “Smallville” actress Allison Mack.

“The Vow” describes the investigation and downfall of NXIVM through the recollections of various members, and some of those who attempted to rescue family from the cult.

Episodes will release weekly, with the first having premiered on August 23.

Jehane Noujaim showruns and directs with Karim Amer. Noujaim is an Egyptian director. I’d highly recommend her 2004 documentary “Control Room”, which examines how the United States waged a propaganda war to legitimize its invasion of Iraq, with a special focus on U.S. efforts aimed at de-legitimizing the Al Jazeera news network. She’s directed a number of documentaries, as well as producing and directing on Hulu’s “Ramy”.

You can watch “The Vow” on HBO.

Driven to Abstraction (virtual theatrical)
directed by Daria Price

Knoedler was an art dealership and gallery in New York City. The business sold more than 60 faked paintings, often for millions of dollars each. The dealership and gallery closed in 2011 under FBI investigation.

This is director Daria Price’s second feature documentary.

“Driven to Abstraction” examines both these events and the state of the high-priced art world that allowed them to happen in the first place.

You can watch “Driven to Abstraction” through its virtual theatrical release. This means you can stream it at home, but you purchase a ticket as if you’d gone to the theater. This allows you to support independent, arthouse, and local theaters as if you’d purchased a physical ticket.

Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.

If you enjoy what you read on this site, consider subscribing to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.