Review by Sean Boelman
It’s never easy to talk about some of the more difficult issues facing society, and it’s rarely fun, but filmmakers still make these urgent films because it is important to have these conversations. Flavio Alves’s new movie The Garden Left Behind may be a bit rough around the edges, but it deals with subject matter that hasn’t been addressed this effectively in film to this point.
The movie tells the story of an undocumented trans immigrant trying to make her way through her life in New York City, dealing with transphobia and racism from all around her. Blending elements of a slice-of-life character study with subtle and nuanced melodrama, the film draws the viewer in and then breaks their heart.
For much of the first hour, the viewer follows the protagonist as she travels through the streets of the city, interacting with various figures in her life. However, there comes a climax that is sudden and unexpected, delivering a crushing blow to the viewer. While the abruptness of the movie could be off-putting to some, it really highlights the urgency of the situation.
With their film, Alves and his co-writer John Rotondo explore just how scary discrimination and violence against trans people truly are. It is truly saddening that this is still an issue, and even more frustrating that society attempts to turn a blind eye to it, but if creators follow the lead set by Alves, there could be some major change in the world.
The area in which the movie does fall flat is in a subplot involving another character that crosses paths with the protagonist multiple times. Although the threads ultimately come together to a satisfying conclusion, it still takes up far too much of the runtime that could have been better spent exploring more of the protagonist’s experiences.
Carlie Guevara gives a phenomenal performance filled with empathy and humanity in the lead role. The recent shift in offering trans roles to trans performers (as opposed to cis actors in drag) has allowed the discovery of some phenomenal talents, and Guevara should certainly be added to this list.
The film also features some pretty strong turns in the supporting cast. The most recognizable names are Ed Asner and Michael Madsen, both of whom have small but interesting parts. More memorable, though, is Miriam Cruz, who gives a wonderfully vulnerable performance as the protagonist’s grandmother.
The Garden Left Behind is a worthy watch if only because of the difficult subject matter it tackles with grace, but the excellent performances are what will make it stand out even more. As an indie, it may be hard for this to get the eyes it deserves, but hopefully audiences will recognize this movie’s importance.
The Garden Left Behind hits virtual cinemas on August 28 followed by a VOD release on September 8.