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TV/Film Culture cheat sheet: “Lingua Franca,” Sufjan Stevens, and more

Sep. 30, 2020
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Watch: Enola Holmes (2020, dir. Harry Bradbeer)

Family-friendly mystery period piece Enola Holmes, starring British big names Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin, and Helena Bonham-Carter, among others (and really, the cast in this one is stellar), is exactly the type of film you’d watch at the cinema with your mom. And while I do miss our overpriced popcorn purchases and my mom’s mid-movie nap, this Netflix release remains enjoyable even from the comfort of our couch.

Enola (Brown) spent her entire childhood with just her mother (Bonham-Carter), after her father died and her brothers Mycroft (Claflin) and Sherlock (Cavill, who is the Chad Sherlock to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Virgin Sherlock) moved away. When her mother vanishes, it’s up to Enola to decipher the clues and bring her home. 

Like most Netflix releases, Enola prides itself on a sanitized kind of feminism—the plot, after all, is about a girl resisting traditional womanhood. (No corsets!) Enola and her mother are definitely radicals in their time, but then again activism in film is only ever revered (or worse, tolerated) when it’s a period piece, when the radicals aren’t as radical anymore. That said, I do understand that I’m probably five years older than the film’s target audience; this movie would have been my Bible had it been released a few years ago.

Brown, as always, makes acting look easy, perfectly balancing charm and emotional depth. She has incredible chemistry with older brother Sherlock despite having few scenes together, but perhaps that’s thanks in part to Cavill’s more compassionate portrayal of the famous detective. The fourth-wall breaks, a trope that’s often overused and distracting, actually enhance the narrative, which is unsurprising considering its director, Harry Bradbeer, also boasts Fleabag on his CV. 

While this has one too many subplots—the arc of the marquess (Louis Partridge, that guy making rounds on younger Stan Twitter) became tedious at times, until the end when he became the force holding all the threads together (and even then, his character just seemed so uninteresting beside Enola). But I’m glad sixteen-year-old movie characters are played by actual sixteen-year-olds, and this was fun! Of course I’m gonna forgive it for not quoting The Yellow Wallpaper or something, and for giving Sam Claflin a crusty mustache.

Enola Holmes is streaming on Netflix. (Text your mom about it!)

Watch: Lingua Franca (2020, dir. Isabel Sandoval)

No filmmaker has embodied auteurship more than Isabel Sandoval, who wrote, directed, produced, edited, and starred in her latest film Lingua Franca. Following a trans Filipina immigrant at the height of the deportation threats from ICE, this film is incredibly personal for the filmmaker. 

“Movies about trans characters tend to focus on the gender transition process,” Sandoval told the LA Times. “I wanted Lingua Franca to start where these trans narratives usually end. Her transition is well behind her. That’s where I was really chronicling, in a fictional narrative, my own experiences as a trans woman living in Brooklyn.” What resulted is a poignant and nuanced portrait of the intersection of gender, race, and class—of the institutional trauma people of color are constantly subjected to in America. It was interesting to see the arc of Olivia, who Sandoval plays, juxtaposed with Russian-American Alex (Eamon Farren), the grandson of the elderly woman Olivia is tasked to care for. They are both transplants, yet Alex, as a white person, cannot fully comprehend the paranoia and anxiety Olivia wakes up to every day. 

Sandoval’s acting is restrained, her eyes marked with the exhaustion of your family back home depending on you. This is the story of millions of Filipinos worldwide, and in the hands of a lesser filmmaker, it wouldn’t have been as resonant. Strikingly, the film opens and closes with a voiceover in Cebuano, one of the Philippines’ 86 languages. “[That] was my intention,” the filmmaker said. “I think there’s something for me as a storyteller, staking my claim in the land that is America by telling my story in my own native tongue.”

Lingua Franca is streaming on Netflix.

Listen: The Ascension by Sufjan Stevens

I’ve seen God and they told me to listen to the new Sufjan Stevens album. It’s no Carrie and Lowell, but after five years of crying to “Death with Dignity,” I will gladly embrace The Ascension with open arms.

Approximately as long as one Holy Mass but too electro-pop to be blasted on church speakers without being blasphemous, The Ascension sings of transcendence, deliverance, and pleasure—so usual Sufjan stuff. Melodically, it sounds larger and more ambitious than his previous album, which was more micro and introspective. The title track sounds like what you would hear on the stairway to heaven, but the words are his most desperate, his most human. “I thought I was called in convocation, I thought I was sanctified and blessed,” he sings by the end. “But now it strengthens me to know the truth at last, that everything comes from consummation, and everything comes with consequence, and I did it all with exultation.” Oh my God, right? 

Listen to The Ascension by Sufjan Stevens on Spotify.