Review : 'Lingua Franca' fills the need for tender trans immigrant stories


“Lingua Franca” represents a big leap for transgender people in Filipino films. Over the years, we have seen trans protagonists on the big screen— loud, colorful and flamboyant. Actress-director-writer Isabel Sandoval’s film is quite the opposite of what we have seen so far. “Lingua Franca” makes clever use of silences and pauses, and an earthy color palette, creating conflicts without words and vivid fanfare.

Because it’s stripped down to its core, we see Olivia (Sandoval) as she is — a Filipino transgender undocumented immigrant in the US—human, erring, and sensual, and not the caricatures often depicted in queer narratives. The film revolves around her ambiguous relationship with Alex (Eamon Farren), a third-generation Russian-Jewish man who is stuck in limbo between being a boy and a man. 

The movie is not dragging to watch - no pun intended. Sandoval’s editing is seamless. The writer (also Sandoval) not only ties up all loose ends, but also closes the loop. The execution that shows the never-ending predicament of people like Olivia is brilliant. You have to experience it yourself.

Cinematographer Isaac Banks knows when to save moments to increase the emotional intensity of scenes. He played with New York City’s architecture and even a rushing train to both magnify the deafening silence and despair of Olivia. The only misstep in the movie is the use of fabricated screams that sounded inauthentic. Still, this gets overlooked because of Sandoval’s magnificent acting.

At a time when transgenders are ostracized and ridiculed, “Lingua Franca” fills the need for stories that affirm queer experiences.

Rating: 9.5/10

“Lingua Franca” is now streaming on for Philippine-based viewers.