With Lingua Franca, which is having virtual theatrical screenings Wednesday and Thursday and comes to Netflix next week, groundbreaking transgender Filipina filmmaker Isabel Sandoval promises an experience that will upend audience expectations.
Lingua Franca tells the story of an undocumented trans Filipina, Olivia, working as a caregiver for Olga, an elderly woman of Russian descent, in Brooklyn's Brighton Beach neighborhood. Olivia hopes to obtain a green card to stay in the U.S. legally. Matters are complicated when she becomes romantically involved with Olga's adult grandson, Alex, and issues arise around her identity, immigration status, and civil rights. Sandoval, the writer and director, stars as Olivia, while Lynn Cohen (The Hunger Games, Master of None) plays Olga, and Eamon Farren (Twin Peaks: The Return, The Witcher) appears as Alex. Ivory Aquino (When We Rise) costars.
Lingua Franca differs from most dramas about social issues, most art-house films from the Philippines, and typical New York-set films in its mid-century aesthetic, reminiscent of the 1950s melodramas of director Douglas Sirk but more subtle, according to the film's press materials. And while Sandoval came up with the idea for the film during her transition, it is not autobiographical. It is her third feature.
Sandoval's next planned film, Tropical Gothic, was influenced by a mid-century classic from a different director -- Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. It has been selected for the 2020 Locarno Film Festival's Open Doors development lab and has a French producer attached.
Lingua Franca has screened at several film festivals around the world, including the 2019 Venice International Film Festival. Sandoval became the first trans woman of color to write, direct, and headline a film in that event. Also, it was the first film in competition by a Filipino director in BFI London's 63-year history. It is being released by Ava DuVernay's company, Array Releasing.
The film is running through Thursday at Los Angeles's Laemmle Virtual Cinema, and there will be a Q&A with Sandoval Wednesday; check here for more information. There will also be online screenings and Q&A's Wednesday via Atlanta's Out on Film and New York's NewFest, and it drops on Netflix August 26. Watch the trailer below.