by Hope Madden
Lingua franca is literally a language used between two people who don’t share a native tongue. But what goes unsaid in Lingua Franca carries far more weight than anything we’re actually told.
Writer/director/producer/star Isabel Sandoval has mastered cinematic understatement. Her approach, as filmmaker and performer, is never showy. Her third and most confident feature is a slice of life drama that meditates quietly on need, agency, love and capital in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn.
Olga (a perceptive Lynn Cohen) sometimes forgets where she is. She gets a little agitated and a little weary.
Olivia (Sandoval) calms her, keeps her safe, keeps her well, but has worries of her own.
Alex (Aemon Farren) just needs to catch a break, so he’s staying with his grandmother and helping out Olivia when he can. But we can’t all help each other, even when we mean to.
Sandoval’s film says so much with so few words, it’s remarkable. By way of Olga’s apartment we enter an entirely lived-in world, one that is likely to be utterly unfamiliar and yet feels as authentic as any you’ve seen. The ordinariness of extraordinary circumstances, unusual measures and extreme tensions emerges by way of Olivia’s resigned, world-wearied gaze.
There is a cultural currency to the story, one in which Olivia’s position as a transgender woman of color is actually less dangerous than her situation as an illegal immigrant in the age of ICE. That anxiety plays as a backdrop to a desperate romance between Olga’s two needy houseguests.
As Olivia’s sketchy love interest, Farren offers a nuanced and authentic turn. Alex is a man of squandered potential, dim prospects, and a fleeting if recurring notion that he can be something of value.
There’s a lonesome transience to the story, a feeling of impermanence that’s frightening, sad and just slightly freeing. Lingua Franca tells a lovely, sad story that’s very much worth hearing.