Metro Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Isabel Sandoval’s “Lingua Franca” is the kind of quiet film that creeps up on you. Describing it as “quiet” doesn’t mean a thing hardly goes by in the film. “Lingua Franca” is a contemplative study of an immigrant trans woman’s life, Olivia (played by Sandoval herself), in the time of Trump. The film is Sandoval’s third but the first since her transition. She began writing the film while undergoing both physical and emotional changes. Initially, she sought to make a straightforward romantic drama in 2015. But in 2016, Donald Trump got elected as the U.S. president. His spectre haunts the corners of the film, the way ICE officers track down “illegal” immigrants, which in turn, increases Olivia’s fears and anxieties as she tries to secure a green card husband. The film’s moody cinematography captures the highly specific atmosphere of the film — it’s glum, awash in subdued primary colors that seem to fade over time.
The film, which premiered in 2019, was acquired in North America by Ava Duvernay’s Array releasing (which has also made acclaimed Netflix-released films such as “Residue,” “Justine,” and “They Gotta Have Us” — all of which are made by BIPOC filmmakers.) It currently holds an 84 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is on Netflix U.S. while in the Philippines, you can watch it through its producer TBA Studio’s online cinema Cinema 76.
“Lingua Franca” had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival independent sidebar Venice Days (Giornate degli Autori), which focuses on less-star studded yet innovative filmmaking (alums include Oscar nominees “Incendies” by Denis Villenueve and “Corpus Christi” by Jan Komasa).
Below, trans filmmaker Moira Lang (producer, “Norte Hangganan ng Kasaysayan” and “Patay na si Hesus”) talks to Sandoval about making “Lingua Franca,” the mindset of an undocumented trans woman in the time of Trump, and the power of showing a trans woman’s desire on film.
Video by SAMANTHA LEE