The Garden Left Behind

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

The Garden Left Behind
dir Flavio Alves
prd Roy Wol
scr John Rotondo, Flavio Alves
with Carlie Guevara, Miriam Cruz, Michael Madsen, Edward Asner, Anthony Abdo, Danny Flaherty, Alex Kruz, Tamara Williams, Bernadette Quigley, Dawn Young, Ivana Black, Frances Lozada
release US Mar.19 sxsw,
UK Mar.20 gff
19/US 1h28

madsen asner flaherty
outfest los angeles

Intimate and skilfully observed, this low-key drama has a vivid emotional undercurrent right from the start as it follows a young woman who has to argue about why she wants to be herself, fight for her right to live in peace and face a major physical and emotional transition. Where this involving story goes is full of both joy and heart-wrenching pain.
While seeking approval from her doctor (Asner) to begin gender reassignment, Tina (Guevara) works as a driver and lives with her cheeky grandmother (Cruz), who still calls her Antonio. After 25 years in New York, Tina has little memory of her first five years in Mexico, aside from a garden in the family home. She gets support from a barman friend Kevin (Madsen), but her boyfriend Jason (Kruz) is reticent. Meanwhile, local shop clerk Chris (Abdo) is hiding himself from his laddish pals, trying to get the courage to reach out to Tina.
The film opens with a brief, effective glimpse at how it feels to live under the threat of violent bigotry. There are also smaller insults and everyday liberties people take to flex feelings of superiority. Thankfully, this is countered with scenes of earthy, honest acceptance and identification, including loving expressions of sexuality. And the script neither simplifies nor shies away from the range of issues people face on these kinds of journeys. Which makes the film both important and moving.

Performances are down-to-earth, mixing bright sarcasm and camaraderie with darkly pointed observations. Guevara is a likeable central character, simply trying to live truthfully with her friends and family. The obstacles in her path are gritty, challenging and downright debilitating, and she faces them with a sense of dignity and realism. Some side characters are a little simplistic (Kruz goes from sweet to cruel very quickly), but there are hidden depths to Cruz's blithely nostalgic abuela, and Abdo brings a dark complexity to Kevin's journey.

Director-cowriter Alves and cowriter Rotondo cleverly unpick an issue many people struggle to understand, finding points of resonance that ring powerfully true in ways that will help both people going through a transition and those who love them. And open-minded audience members will also find new ways to identify with others, taking on a system that's deeply seeped in prejudice. As one activist says, "We have a voice, and we don't need anybody to speak for us." And no one should be abandoned to live in fear.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 25.Feb.20

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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall