The Garden Left Behind (2019)

The Garden Left Behind
Director: Flavio Alves
Writer: Flavio Alves, John Rotondo
Cast: Carlie Guevara, Miriam Cruz, Anthony Abdo, Alex Kruz, Tamara M. Williams, Ivana Black, Michael Madsen, Edward Asner
Part of: Transition Queer Film Festival
Seen on: 21.11.2020

Content Note: (critical treatment of) transmisogyny; murder of a trans woman; stalking; mention of suicide (in the review)

Plot:
Tina (Carlie Guevara) lives with her grandmother Eliana (Miriam Cruz) in a small apartment. They are both undocumented immigrants from Mexico. Tina works as a driver and all the money she makes there that she can spare goes into her transition fund. She is waiting for her therapist (Edward Asner) to clear her for transition, and hopes she will have the necessary funds together by then. But even apart from transition, being a trans woman in New York isn’t easy. Her boyfriend Jason (Alex Kruz) seems uncomfortable with her transition, the guy in the corner store (Anthony Abdo) keeps eyeing her weirdly, and danger is always lurking.

The Garden Left Behind is an insightful look at the many struggles trans people have to face in the USA, including the unrelenting violence against them. It is with said violence that the film stumbles a little, but the effectiveness of the ending and the entire film still stands.

The film poster showing a close-up of Tina (Carlie Guevara).

[SPOILERS]

Most of the film focuses on Tina and just casually shows you how many hurdles trans people have to jump over to get a say about their own bodies. From therapy with an inept therapist who has to decide whether they really are who they say they are to the simple question of money – transitions are costly, and most trans people are also economically marginalized. Add to that the constant transmisia, especially transmisogyny, that gets lobbed around, even by those who should be closest to you, and it’s understandable that suicide rates are very high among the trans population.

All these aspects are present in Tina’s story, further complicated by the fact that she is undocumented, so doesn’t have a chance at a good job with health insurance. Still, Tina is also lucky because in her grandmother, she has somebody who absolutely loves her (even if she doesn’t really understand the transition) and she has good trans friends. Carlie Guevara has a magnetic presence on screen and following her is always gripping.

Tina (Carlie Guevara) looking at someone.

But there is another part of the story with Chris – the cornerstore clerk who is rather obsessed with Tina. For some reason the film decides to take a deep-dive into his psychology to explain his obsession and ultimately his violence and this decision was misguided on two fronts: for one, who gives a fuck? Men kill women for all kinds of reasons and we spend way too much time explaining them which too often leads to excusing and too rarely to the answer that is right there: misogyny. And two, the psychology here feels way too simplified. It just isn’t convincing.

Of course, there is another factor here that it is way too often that we see trans people die on screen. This is, unfortunately, also true for real life, so I can understand why they made the decision to include murder as well in the film. Still, would it really have been too much to ask for a happy end here? That being said, I can’t deny that the end was an absolute suckerpunch that was very effective on an emotional level. Even if I wished it was different.

Chris (Anthony Abdo) wet in the bathroom, we can only see half his face.

Summarizing: Worth seeing, but better go in prepared.

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