In 2011, Mexican director Gerardo Naranjo released a thriller based on true events called Miss Bala about an aspiring beauty queen who is swept into the criminal underworld, and while it was a hit with critics (Certified Fresh at 87%), it didn t quite sear itself into the pop culture consciousness at the time. That said, Hollywood saw fit to remake the film for English-speaking audiences with Jane the Virgin star Gina Rodriguez in the lead, and the result is this week s Miss Bala. The new film takes a few extra liberties with the story, as Rodriguez s Gloria is a U.S. citizen whose close friend s disappearance prompts a frantic search that leads to her being kidnapped by a drug cartel and forced to act as an unwilling mule. Critics say the new interpretation is a far cry from its predecessor that heavily sanitizes its story for a PG-13 rating and suffers from bland action and predictable story beats. Gina Rodriguez does her best in the role and showcases her potential to be a bigger movie star, but the rest of the film may be a disappointment for anyone looking for something weightier.
Writer-Director Isabel Sandoval translates her own gender confirmation journey with the marginalization of trans people and immigrants into the framework for an illuminating and timely story. While Filipina trans woman Olivia (Sandoval) is striving to secure a green card to stay in America, she unexpectedly begins a relationship with the son of the woman she works for, and issues around identity, civil rights, and immigration soon complicate the already fraught romance. Lingua Franca happens to shine a spotlight on transgender representation by way of a film that places a strong focus on immigration, according to Danielle Solzman of Solzy at the Movies. Rotten Tomatoes chatted with Sandoval about the film, her historic Venice premiere, working with Ava DuVernay, and using the president s voice.Let s talk about Venice. What was it like to screen there? Last year, there were few women directors with films playing at Venice fewer than Cannes or Berlin. It s such a gratifying feeling to know that I ve blazed a trail, but ultimately I hope we get to a point where diverse voices being presented at major festivals happen more often and stops being news. On a personal level, when Venice invited the film, I felt vindicated that we premiered at that major a festival. I had this feeling of relief that this risky, idiosyncratic work will be seen more widely and taken more seriously, and hopefully, become enough of a success that it allows me to continue making films that I want.Talk about working with Ava DuVernay and Array.Ava sees the merit in a fiercely personal work that could ve fallen through the cracks. It s a work that can be regarded as difficult because it doesn t pander to conventional, easy resolutions or film language. To paraphrase Hardy, It s difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs. In the same way, I m inventing my own cinematic language that I want the audience to put in the effort to understand. That s why I feel grateful that Lingua Franca was acquired by Ava and Array. The Array team has worked very hard and been stunningly creative in getting the word out about Lingua Franca, and I m honored to be part of the Array family. Apart from being a formidable filmmaker, Ava is a tireless maverick in Hollywood, one who continues to open doors for younger filmmakers. As busy as she is, I appreciate her still finding the time to check in, like calling me personally the day that Lingua Franca came out. I m a bit introverted, so it really takes quite a bit of effort on my part to be assertive or entrepreneurial. The delicate balance between creative focus and the energy to navigate the industry and champion underrepresented voices is one that Ava has mastered. It s something I d like to emulate; as a woman of color, Hollywood isn t going to just hand me opportunities easily.The Trump voice-over, was that there from the beginning? Why did it feel necessary to include that in the story?As anchored in reality as the film is, it s also impressionistic, evoking Olivia s emotional state as an undocumented immigrant. And in that space, Trump is a looming, oppressive presence. You might not see him, but you feel him, and sometimes you can t turn that feeling off. The Trump V.O. very succinctly evokes a specific mood and atmosphere, more than any musical score or effect can. It s almost Pavlovian; you can just feel your throat tighten.The film is on Netflix, which increases its reach. What do you hope viewers take from it?It s only on Netflix North America at the moment, but I hope it compels the audience to feel the complicated, fraught emotions that the film brings up. That s how you begin to empathize with Olivia and live in the world in her skin. It s not a social drama where you re emotionally coddled and everything is neatly resolved at the end. Reality is far too complex for that. I want the film to linger and haunt. But I don t think it s a bleak film; it s hopeful and tender.What is on your Indie Fresh List? What are you watching? Never Rarely Sometimes Always, a film of deep feeling; The Surrogate, an exquisitely layered moral drama, which more films should be these days; First Cow, classic Reichardt, humane and profound.Available to stream now on Netflix.