The issues that The Garden Left Behind explores are pertinent and vital. We cannot achieve a moral or a just society without addressing them. That they are explored so heavy-handedly and with such a cruel sense of expectation here is a great shame. Indeed, the first shots of the movie show our protagonist being watched, underscored by ominous chimes and uncomfortable closeups. From the very start we expect to see a tragic, haunting narrative about oppression and hatred, and that – for better and (often) for worse – is exactly what we get.

Newcomer Carlie Guevara plays Tina Carrera, a trans woman and undocumented migrant in New York City desperately trying to fund her gender affirming surgery. She lives with her grandma Eliana (Miriam Cruz), someone who loves her but who deadnames her repeatedly: the first of many characters who feign companionship but are often deeply selfish and harmful to Tina. By introducing us to these microaggressions in even the most unassuming people, The Garden Left Behind makes us hyper-aware of transphobia — which is a respectable goal, but the filmmakers’ approach sometimes becomes exploitative rather than educative.

The “Garden” of the title is a nostalgic vision of Mexico that Eliana wishes to return to, and, while Tina’s love for her sole family figure is endearing, director Flavio Alves could have done much more to foreground Tina’s own dreams and personality. For something so character-based, the dialogue is clunky and disjointed. Many scenes are transparently functional, alternating between displays of solidarity and what feels like a relentless visualisation of every transphobic event possible. Regrettably, the movie’s general indistinctness only adds to its sense of emotional exploitation.

While propped up by its charming performances, The Garden Left Behind’s oppressive story and impatient, thoughtless style make it a hard-to-watch exposé of transphobia in modern society.



CAST: Carlie Guevara, Michael Madsen, Edward Asner, Miriam Cruz, Danny Flaherty, Anthony Abdo, Alex Kruz, Tamara M. Williams

DIRECTOR: Flavio Alves

WRITERS: Flavio Alves, John Rotondo 

SYNOPSIS: A young trans woman deals with numerous societal and healthcare struggles while trying to maintain a life for her and her grandmother, both of whom are undocumented migrants in New York City.