Lingua Franca won the top honors at the recent Bentonville Film Festival. The movie is about named Olivia. The undocumented Filipina trans woman lives in Brooklyn looking for love and the papers needed to remain in the country. It is a not often visited premise that has a lot of potential.
Unfortunately, the movie does not quite live up to its lofty expectations. The performances are the highlight of Lingua Franca. Still, the acting never gets across the passion the writer and director Isabel Sandoval obviously poured into the script. The cast never seems natural and are very much actors playing parts. This is especially surprising since Sandoval stars in the semi autobiographical story.
A similar issues plagues the story. Sandoval is clearly writing from a place she was familiar with. Doing whatever is necessary to prevent from being deported can lead to some great dramatic storytelling. Lingua Franca is constantly flirting with greatness, but can never get past just being adequate. The story seems satisfied to leave many things unresolved.
Despite its flaws, there is a love that runs throughout Lingua Franca. The story will draw audiences in even when the characters do not. Sandoval is charting into rarely explored territory here. The film touches on a segment of society that is rarely referenced. The movie’s willingness to dive headlong into all the hot button issues is certainly commendable.
There is also plenty of personality bubbling beneath the surface. This is obviously a personal film for Sandoval. Even in the Lingua Franca’s clumsiest moments, it is a very heartfelt story. Sandoval’s film may have been better served as a documentary. This would have taken care of some of the acting issues. The camerawork already has a documentary look at times.
Lingua Franca is a brave film. It is willing to tackle issues that are being addressed more today, but are still rarely seen. The story is an emotional one that is written from the heart. Unfortunately, issues with the dialogue and performances will hamper its overall enjoyment.
Lingua Franca premieres in select theaters and on Netflix August 26
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