Isabel Sandoval is one of the most purely talented directors in the world. More films of hers will be added to this very early list as they come out over the years.
3. Senorita (2011)
The film feels incredibly connected at the hip to Sandoval’s second film. Watching them in reverse chronological order greatly impacted the impression the film made on me. While Aparisyon very much addresses on the powerless that comes from being a human being in this cruel world that the self-appointed elites have created for all of us, Senorita deals with the human tragedy that comes with trying to take small amounts of that power back.
Sandoval’s Donna character recognizes the inherent cruelty that her adopted community is forced to experience due to the corrupt institutions they live under. On an individual level, she fights her and her son’s potential complete poverty by being a sex worker. On a societal level, she tries to fight the good fight by working for a local doctor who is attempting to run for mayor of the community. These two battles become intractably entwined with the ultimate fates of both battles becoming fully dependent on one another.
Sandoval, in her debut feature-length film, displays remarkable skill at capturing the beautiful spirit of the majority of humanity along with the seemingly impossible conditions they are forced to survive through.
2. Lingua Franca (2019)
“One mistake, Alex.”
Lingua Franca is an erotic yet tragic love story. Isabel Sandoval plays Olivia, a woman who works as a nurse for an aging woman (Lynn Cohen) in Brooklyn. Cohen’s extremely hot grandson, Alex (Eamon Farren), returns to the area and is going to stay with his grandmother. Olivis and Alex are brought together by their commonalities: they both care about Alex’s grandmothers, they both cornered by the world and do not fully feel at peace with who they are and what their lives are like, and they are also of course both very hot.
In other ways they are very obviously different. Olivia is a Filipino trans undocumented immigrant who is trying to save money to buy herself a green card marriage AND still send money back home to her family. And Alex is an alcoholic son (or grandson) of immigrants who at one point likely had many options but due to a combination of bad lucky and bad choices, Alex is left with relatively few options in life.
The key word there for Alex being “options.” Olivia has zero margin of error. While Alex has a tough situation of his own, it’s clear that he has and can make mistake after mistake and still come out of it relatively unscathed (in comparison). This tension is what of course makes their romance so compelling and yet so set up for failure. Sandoval’s most recent feature-length film is a testament that she is one of the most compelling storytellers and filmmakers today and will hopefully be around for a long time to come.
Also, props to Sandoval for writing herself a movie to star in where she gets to make out with a hot dude for a significant portion of the time. I am manifesting this type of confidence for the rest of us going forward.
1. Aparisyon (2012)
“God is playing with us.”
.”There’s nothing we can do. Let’s just pray.”
“[It felt like a] calm before the storm. That we are all powerless [against].”
The people of the Philippines have suffered as much as any group of people due to the long and cruel arm of Western imperialism since the conquest of the planet began over 500 years ago. They have survived and resisted against as much as anyone. While it would be a bit cringe for me to turn this film about Filipino nuns trying to stay safe, survive, and deal with their world as is into a cliche white boy anti-imperialist rant. But it was impossible for me to experience my first feature length film from Sandoval any other way.
The women of this Filipino coventry are desperately trying to create a space for themselves that keep them safe from the chaos erupting in their country. In some ways, the belief that they are safe inside is revealed to be more important than actual safety. When two of the nuns leave their walls and have a tragic violent experience, the inner lives of the nuns is turned upside down. While they cope with the reality of the violence Sister Lourdes survived, they also as an institution try to cling to that very institution as a means of maintaining order and that belief that they can safe.
It is a natural human response. But deeply saddening as the institution they prioritize over the humanity of Lourdes is an outsider’s institution. Forced on them from Western conquerers half a world a way and whose centuries of violence against Filipinos created the conditions for the current chaos their country was suffering from. It is a situation so overwhelming that it makes you want to just give up and pray.