Lingua Franca

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Lingua Franca
"Ably performed all round, with a strong turn from Sandoval in the lead, this is a timely reflection on how it feels to be an outsider in the land of the free."

There are believed to be around ten million unauthorised immigrants in the US at present. Many have fled persecution. Others just desperately need to make a better living, for their own sakes or the sake of their loved ones. We don't find out all the details of what brought Olivia (Isabel Sandoval) there, but we can see what it has cost her. She lives in constant fear that ICE officers will appear out of nowhere someday and steal her away, sending her back to the Philippines, destroying everything that she has built for herself. There's only one thing she can do to make herself secure. She has to get married. When the man she has been paying to be her fiancé backs out at the last minute, all seems lost.

There is a possible solution. Like many undocumented immigrants, Olivia works in personal care. One of her clients is an elderly Russian woman, Olga (Lynn Cohen), and Olga has an adult grandson, Alex (Eamon Farren), who has a history of screwing up his life and really needs a partner with the patience to get him straightened out. He clearly has eyes for Olivia and the two of them getting together sounds like the perfect solution. When, after some cautious flirting, they seem to be developing feelings for each other, one might almost expect this to turn into a romcom. We are closer to real life here, however, with all its complications.

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Olivia isn't inclined to lie about being transgender. Her last boyfriend knew. It's just that it has been so long since she tried to live as a man that that doesn't feel like part of her any more. Will Alex abandon her, or even hurt her, if he finds out? She doesn't waste much energy worrying about it; she trusts him. Olga doesn't. Alex has secrets of his own and both halves of this precariously balanced couple will have to rethink their priorities if the love growing between them is to stand a chance.

Though ostensibly focused on this relationship, Lingua Franca has at least as much to say about the immigrant experience and how it fits into the modern landscape of a country one fifth of whose residents were born abroad. It explores the damage that living outside the law has done to Olivia's confidence and sense of self worth. As Alex tries to restructure his life, do right by Olga and become a better person, Olivia is trying to rediscover a sense of her own value. In a lonely church she pours her heart out to a friend in a similar position, but one by one she has seen those friends snatched away.

Ably performed all round, with a strong turn from Sandoval in the lead, this is a timely reflection on how it feels to be an outsider in the land of the free. Directing the action in narrow corridors and cluttered rooms, Sandoval plunges us into the midst of tangled lives and a world whose chaotic nature defies the state's urge to classify and categorise. It's messy and brave and human.

Reviewed on: 07 Feb 2021
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An undocumented Filipina trans woman, who works as a caregiver in Brooklyn, develops a connection with the grandson of her employer.


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