In her new indie drama “Lingua Franca,” filmmaker Isabel Sandoval plays Olivia, an undocumented Filipina immigrant working as a caregiver in Brooklyn. Olivia watches over Olga, an elderly Russian woman played by the late Lynn Cohen.
Like Sandoval herself, Olivia is transgender, and once Olga’s grandson Alex, played by Eamon Farron of “Twin Peaks: The Return,” moves into his grandmother’s apartment, Olivia must navigate a growing attraction to a handsome, cisgender man contending with addiction issues.
While dealing with her anxiety about that, Olivia is constantly in fear of deportation. While Donald Trump is never shown onscreen, he and his policies feature prominently in the film — in news clips and dialogue as Olivia tries desperately to get a green card that will allow her to stay in the states.
Before Lingua Franca, Sandoval had worked in the Philippines on low-budget films. With her latest film, she noticed something new: Now that she was working for the first time following her transition, there were people on the project who were trying to tell her what to do. One producer even tried to triple the film’s budget, adding costs that Sandoval saw as unnecessary. Sandoval ultimately prevailed against the changes, keeping her film on a small budget.
The move paid off for Sandoval. “Lingua Franca” had a successful festival run and was picked up by Ava Duvernay’s distribution company, Array.
On paper, “Lingua Franca” might sound like a standard drama about social issues, but the movie subverts these expectations, taking a much more intimate look at its characters. Sandoval says that was intentional. She wanted to draw viewers in and subvert their expectations.