Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 26, 2019

The Garden Left Behind

Filed under: Film,transgender — louisproyect @ 6:19 pm

For most people on the left who are supportive of transgender rights, including me, there’s still little understanding of the realities of transgender life. Having gay friends and comrades is ubiquitous but unless you count a transgender person as part of your social circle, your knowledge tends to be based on what you’ve read about the well-known such as Chelsea Manning. To get that understanding, there’s no better place to start than Flavio Alves’s “The Garden Left Behind” that will be available as VOD on December 13th (Amazon Prime, iTunes, etc).

It stars Carlie Guevara as Tina Carrera, a transgender, 20-something, undocumented Mexican immigrant living and working as a gypsy cab driver in Queens, a far cry from the superheroes, mafia gangsters, ingenues, and cops that you can see in the typical Hollywood movie. Even though Tina’s grandmother Eliana accepts her without qualifications, she still calls her Antonio, a function more of long-time family ties than prejudice.

Tina’s dream is to become qualified for the hormone treatments that will make bring her body into alignment with her mind. To be eligible, she has to be cleared by a licensed physician who can properly evaluate whether there’s a case for gender dysphoria, a condition that describes the distress a person feels due to a mismatch between their gender and biological identities. Dr. Cleary, Tina’s doctor, is played by Ed Asner who turned 90 this month and is as great as ever playing a professional who can be patronizing and caring at the same time. In one scene, the two discuss what it means to be happy. After posing the question to her, she puts the ball back in his court: she asks what makes him happy. His answer focuses on family and career. Why it is so difficult to understand that Tina’s dream is simply to live as a woman if that would make her happy? If this physician who has been treating such people for decades can be so uncomprehending, what can we expect from the rest of society?

Despite her being in limbo between two sexual identities, Tina has a boyfriend who presumably accepts her on her own terms. Ostensibly straight, Jason is a successful professional who finally takes her out to dinner after months of intimacy. When Tina texts him the good news that Dr. Cleary has given her the green light for hormone treatments, he cuts her out of his life. We can only assume that it was her androgynous qualities that turned him on.

This is not the only man who has ambivalent feelings toward Tina. When she shops at a neighborhood bodega, the cashier named Chris gazes longingly at her but must conceal his feelings in order to maintain his friendship with a group of local youths who jeer at Tina whenever they see her walking down the street. The boys play baseball together and hurl homophobic insults toward each other in typical locker-room fashion, even if they sense that Chris is different.

The only man who seems able to connect with her in the way that all transgender people would welcome is Kevin, the owner of a neighborhood bar. Played against type by the 62-year old Michael Madsen, his character epitomizes the decency that many New Yorkers exhibit. When he mentions to her that he needs to hire a new bartender, she offers herself as a qualified applicant. Without blinking an eye, he tells her to get behind the bar and make a Manhattan, which she does effortlessly. The job will pay better than driving a gypsy cab and all bodes well for her future.

Her abuela (grandmother) Eliana, however, does not like living in Queens and would like to return to Mexico where life is easier and where she can tend to the garden she left behind. Since Tina has lived in the USA since the age of six and enjoys the fast-paced and open-minded atmosphere of NYC, she does not share the same longings.

We soon discover that despite Kevin and other good-hearted New Yorkers, there are many filled with hatred toward the “other”. When the target is both trans and a Mexican immigrant, the hatred is multiplied. A transgender Latina woman named Rosie has been beaten up by the cops and Tina is drawn into a movement to halt such attacks. To cast the movement activists and Tina’s best friends, director Flavio Alves took the extraordinary measure of hiring transgender people to play these parts. He also drew in transgender people into the making of the film. It is also worth noting that funding for the film came from an eBay campaign, the first of its kind.

In an interview with “Eye for Film”, Alves, a Brazilian who came to the USA for political asylum, described his motivation for making such a film:

Just like all my films, The Garden Left Behind is about marginalised and overlooked members of our society. When I was making this film I thought yeah, let’s try to tick as many boxes as possible, because it is hard to be a trans woman but it is much harder if you also happen to be undocumented, you know? Especially in the US, there are so many people who flee persecution, especially from Central or South America. They come to the US and they don’t have the papers. They live among us and it’s very sad, you know? At one point in my life I was undocumented, so I know what it’s like to be an outsider and that’s the reason why I made this film… I feel that it’s my obligation to bring to the forefront stories that reflect not only my experience but the experience of marginalised communities.

On December 13, look for “The Garden Left Behind” on VOD. It is my choice for one of the best films of 2019 and will likely be yours as well.

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