“The Courtroom” is an emotionally intense, and powerful film, that showcases the true story and verbatim script that was documented in court, in the case of Filipina immigrant Elizabeth Keathley, (played by breakout star, Kristin Villanueva), who mistakingly voted while on a K3 Visa, and therefore, faced a heartbreaking deportation case.
The film was adapted from a prior theater performance, and although I can imagine a very moving performance, the cinematography grew me into the characters and quite literally. During Elizabeth’s most tragic moments of hearing from the Judge that she has to either volunteer to leave the U.S. or be forcefully deported, the cinematographer made the bold decision to zoom into Actor Kristin’s face, while cutting off her forehead and chin, and leaving only her eyes expressing defeat with heavy tears, and her mouth shaking from anxiety. Actor Kristin creates a riveting performance, full of depth, uneasy mannerisms, a consistent accent, and the uncomfortable body language of an underdog that we were all rooting for. In fact, her performance was so transformative, that the audience’s shock could be heard at the Judge’s decision to follow through with the unfortunate deportation procedure, that lacked complete mercy for the fact that as a mother, she would be separated from her newborn, husband, and the new life she created in America.
After her character decided to leave instead of face deportation, the screen goes to 3 years later to her Lawyer still passionately, and persistently fighting for her in Appeals Court. The court documents/ script, was emotionally disheartening to follow, as the audience collectively let out our signs of frustrations, due to our empathy for her Lawyer’s strong, emotional, and important argument grew. The offense rebuttals from the Judges were often so harsh, and heartless, that it was discouraging to follow what felt like a hopeless story without a positive outcome, and face the fact that these words were the very words said in court – word for word. We were all relieved to learn that the story ends happily with a bittersweet Citizenship Oath for Elizabeth, and I could hear audience members crying from the connection they built with Kristin’s character and cheering on her new chapter. This true immigration story is an eye-opening, and heartbreaking look into the emotional, unjust, and painful immigrant court cases, and the indescribable challenges that immigrants face in a new country.