Berlinale 2021: Natalie Morales' 'Language Lessons' on Platonic Love
by Alex Billington
March 2, 2021
How well do you really know your friends? Perhaps you know them better than they want to admit. Perhaps you don't know all of their secrets. But whatever it is that connects you, that's what matters. And that's what this beautiful film is all about. Language Lessons is something really special. I feel honored to be witness to the start of a whole new indie subgenre - mumblezoom. (Or maybe zoomumble? Zoomcore?) It doesn't surprise me that Mark Duplass is involved in the next evolution of mumblecore, but this really is Natalie Morales' film above all. This film is like a big warm hug of pure, perfect goodness that we all so need right now. Just patient and lovely in its heartfelt reminder that friendship is vitally important and we need to stop being so against anyone who tries to care. Let love glow, let it shine, let it heal us, let it take us on journeys.
Language Lessons is the feature directorial debut of Cuban-American actress Natalie Morales, and is co-written by Morales and Mark Duplass, who also co-stars with her in the film. It's one of the best pandemic film creations so far, and effortlessly transcends the limitations of its concept and technical elements. The film is made up entirely of Zoom conversations and video messages sent between Cariño and Adam. At the beginning, Adam is tricked by his husband who has bought him Spanish language lessons with this woman, but before we know it tragedy strikes and the two become fast friends. It's a story about platonic love, about friends and how much they mean to us, but it touches on plenty of topics including sexism and honesty and grief. And it's so genuine and truthful and uplifting. The more the two connected, the more I loved the film.
Watching this reminded me of that moment when you watch the world premiere of something incredible at Sundance (or any big festival) that you know is just going to change the indie world forever, it's that good. I could just feel the buzz of the audience, which in this case, just meant all my friends watching this film at home stirring in happiness. I still remember the exact venue I was in when I watched the Duplass Bros' film Baghead at Sundance in 2008, and I feel like this new film has just as much power in its indie filmmaking ability to shape the world of cinema from now on. It's not that we haven't seen computer screen films before, it's not that there haven't been made-entirely-on-Zoom films (see: Host), and it's not that there haven't been pandemic films already. It's just that none of them are this good, none of them break out of the Zoom screen and pull you in for a big, warm, friendly hug. That's what makes this one so revolutionary in its story of love.
It's always great to see Mark Duplass in anything, he seems to have an ability to take on a challenging role and pull it off just right. However, this is Natalie Morales creation and she deserves the acclaimed. She has made something so magical and exceptionally affecting. It's not so much about the technical aspects but the emotional core of the film that really is spectacular. There's a nuanced understanding of love and connection here that few films ever truly grasp. This film is going to be a guide for so many people to find their way back when they need it. So many are going to fall head over heels for it and it will become their comfort film they revisit whenever they need to feel better. I don't even think I can properly express my feelings in words, I'm so overwhelmed, and the lovely end credits song has been stuck in my head for an entire day, too. Bravo.