The Garden Left Behind is a movie for its times. For not only does it deal with the human rights issues surrounding Transgender people, it also depicts, specifically, the trauma and abuse faced by people of colour who are transitioning.
The movie tells the story of Tina (Carlie Guevara) an undocumented Latino Transgender woman who lives with her grandmother. When we meet Tina she is working as a taxi driver to support her and her grandma while also trying to save money to begin the physical process of transitioning. They live a tenuous existence in New York, for without the proper documents neither of them are eligible for medical insurance and can’t work legally.
Through the telling of Tina’s story we see the hoops that people trying to transition are forced to jump through. Even with a sympathetic psychologist (a wonderful performance from the ageless Ed Asner) asking her the required questions and conducting her evaluation, we begin to understand the barriers imposed upon Transgender people who want to become who they are.
However, this movie is about Tina, not just her desire to transition. What makes The Garden Left Behind work is how well we get to know her. We see her at work, with her grandma, and with her friends. Her grandmother might still refer to Tina by her former name, but the love between the two is obvious. In fact the movie’s title comes from her grandma’s desire to return to Mexico, to the garden she left behind.
Unfortunately we also witness the abuse and harassment Transgender people deal with on a regular basis. From harassment on the street from local men, to her supposed boyfriend not wanting to be seen in public with her and then throwing her away when she receives the go ahead to begin the physical process of transitioning.
Director, and co-writer of the screenplay, along with John Rontondo, Flavio Alves, has done a remarkable job of keeping the story clean and simple. Don’t expect any melodrama or mock sentimentality in The Garden Left Behind, rather a wonderful and genuinely touching look at one person’s life.
Tina’s story isn’t everybody’s, obviously, but in the process of telling it, Alves has allowed us a glimpse into a reality few of us will ever experience. Told with compassion and intelligence it can only increase viewers understanding and awareness of the critical situation faced by Transgender people as they just try and live their lives.
What’s even better about The Garden Left Behind is how its not just an issue movie. This is a good movie for all the reasons movies are good. Its mixture of novice and seasoned actors do a wonderful job of bringing the script to life and the direction is sure and steady. There are no wrong notes in any of the performances and there is an intimacy to the filming that brings us right into the lives of the characters.
The Garden Left Behind is one of those rare movies which manages to convey a message without sacrificing quality. Transgender people walk around with targets on their back, subject to harassment and belittlement from all sides. One movie can’t change public opinion, but this one is definitely a step in the right direction. If you care at all about human rights see this movie.
You can watch, rent or purchase a digital copy of The Garden Left Behind through Amazon.com.