Only two films today, as I used the evening to have some birthday drinks for myself, but both films I saw were written and directed by a woman who also took the lead role, and one gets the sense that both films are about their respective directors. As such the ways that they each approach themselves as subject probably reveal plenty about their respective situations, as the Korean film is more broadly comical.
Lingua Franca (2019) [USA/Philippines]
This film is about an undocumented Filipina trans woman (played by the director, Isabel Sandoval) working as a caregiver in New York City for Olga (Lynn Cohen), an elderly woman herself presumably once an immigrant from Eastern Europe. As such, it’s at times a sad, difficult film with a sombre undertone unavoidable in Trump’s America (like the character, we have to hear little snippets of some of his speeches on the subject, and it’s obviously far from heartening). The family setup suggests the difference in attitudes towards immigrants over time, the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ immigrants, hinting at a racist dimension to the discourse (one of those snippets is about ICE targeting the ‘criminal’ undocumented workers, though the system is itself set up to criminalise anyone living and working without a Green Card). Then of course, there’s Olivia’s status as a trans woman, which is never explicitly addressed, though there are throwaway transphobic comments by the friends of Olga’s grandson Alex (Eamon Farren), but Alex to his credit (and it’s one of the few things to his credit, sadly) seems relatively unjudgmental as his feelings towards Olivia develop. However, for all that I’ve highlighted the difficulties Olivia faces, it’s also a tender and warm-hearted film, and for all her struggles to gain ‘legal’ status, Olivia struggles on and is even afforded some moments of fleeting optimism. I really want to see more of Sandoval’s work now, and I hope she is given a chance to develop her filmmaking voice.
Director/Writer Isabel Sandoval; Cinematographer Isaac Banks; Starring Isabel Sandoval, Eamon Farren, Lynn Cohen; Length 90 minutes.
Seen at Vue West End, London, Thursday 10 October 2019.
하트 (Heart, 2019) [South Korea]
I haven’t read up much about director/star Jeong Ga-young, but I’m guessing a lot of the pieces have compared her to her compatriot Hong Sang-soo. Like him, she seems to focus on talky films about characters very close to herself (if they aren’t indeed autobiographical), on filmmakers and their relationship to their subjects, something that Hong has really closely interrogated at times, usually with a dose of self-critique. This film by Jeong takes the form of a sort of diptych, in which she is first seen confronting a former lover about a relationship they once briefly had, as she ponders another possible hook-up with a married man. Later on the film switches to Jeong as a filmmaker interviewing a young actor about playing this role. The setups are fairly simple two-handers, mostly in large artist studio settings, but the positions of Jeong and her male co-stars is reversed between the two halves of the film. It’s a self-involved film and as with Hong, Jeong doesn’t make herself into any kind of hero, but she does craft some rather witty, funny lines and at one point lets one of her interlocutors tell her how good her written dialogue is, which she (playing a version of herself) then readily agrees to. It’s a fascinating film, and does make me intrigued to see the rest of Jeong’s output, though I wonder if she’ll ever be as prolific as Hong.
Director/Writer Jeong Ga-young 정가영; Cinematographer Kim Seon-hyeong 김선형; Starring Jeong Ga-young 정가영, Lee Seok-hyeong 이석형; Length 70 minutes.
Seen at ICA, London, Thursday 10 October 2019.