By Adam Ray Palmer
The third film at LFF for Cineroom is one I have been chasing since Berlinale and SXSW – and now I have finally tracked it down.
Language Lessons is a debut feature film from Natalie Morales (also a co-writer with Mark Duplass) and, you guessed it, starring the duo of Morales and Duplass as well.
A couple, Adam (Duplass) and Will, have it all: a big house, a swimming pool with a hot tub and a loving relationship. There is just one thing missing for Adam that he barely remembers wanting to do… brushing up on his Spanish. Adam reluctantly receives a gift from Will of 100 Spanish lessons with Cariño (Morales), a Costa-Rican based Cuban who teaches the language over Skype sessions, though neither teacher nor student are convinced it will last.
However, fortunes change for the lessons and for the pair. Following a bereavement, the twosome finds themselves becoming each other’s lifelines, despite living in different countries and barely knowing one another.
Language Lessons is a swift 90-minute joy. In all honesty, “joy” is a word I use loosely but by the time the credits roll, you’re left with a sense of fulfilment. The hour before the final five minutes is much more of a journey, and we constantly live through it in a 2D world. The whole film was shot during lockdown on phones and laptops though no mention of the pandemic exists.
The thing that really gets me about Language Lessons is its soul. It’s often humourous but the heartening and encouraging depiction of platonic love is one that is so pure, and to be honest, rare on the big screen. The added themes of grief and loneliness, especially in these recent times, is added insulation around an already formidable narrative.
The film is poignant, intimate, and tender from start to finish, showcasing Morales’ and Duplass’ skills as actors, but also their impeccable screenwriting. Morales as a director is also important to note here – a bold and challenging debut that clearly shows she is a filmmaker on the rise.
Language Lessons is one of the most simply filmed and straightforward plots I have ever come across, but the layers entwined make the parameters actually more of a hindrance. You long for their friendship, you need to know what happens off the Skype calls and you just want more. For a movie that follows two “strangers” who connect with each over the Spanish language, and the internet – I simply adore it.
Cineroom’s rating: 4.5 stars
Language Lessons premiered at the London Film Festival – certificate 12A