‘Lemonade’ provides a searing portrait of immigrant life, detailing the harrowing trials and tribulations of assimilation and ultimately the perseverance needed to survive.
An immigrant life is never an easy one. It’s filled with heartache, loneliness, anxiety, self-doubt, and exhaustion. It’s a seemingly never-ending struggle that forces individuals to adapt and become tenacious in their pursuits. And while contemporary politics in Europe and the United States has begun once again spurning the age-old wive’s tale of impending doom from an influx of refugees and immigrants, it seems that it has begun to take hold in sociocultural realms as well. From the rise of right-wing social groups to the heightened security forces on borders, immigrants are increasingly painted in dehumanizing perspectives. It’s a painful experience, one that languishes these individuals into apathetic submission. What can be done if no one truly empathizes anymore?
That is in many ways the narrative arc that Lemonade (or Luna de miere as it is known in Romanian). Ioana Uricaru’s first feature tells the heart-wrenching tale of Mara (Mălina Manovici), an immigrant who is desperately trying to legitimize herself in the treacherous world of United States immigration. After her temporary work visa expires, Mara is left scrambling to try to stay in the United States, ultimately marrying a physical therapy patient of hers in the hopes that it will grant her a coveted green card. As she is thrown into the deep-end of sadistic immigrant agents and dizzying levels of bureaucracy, Mara is left helplessly trying to maintain any semblance of normalcy for her young child, Dragos (Milan Hurduc).
Told in a brilliantly socially conscious manner, Lemonade looks and sounds more like a play than it does a film. That is to say, it is a modernist tale that is deeply empathetic and driven by terse dialogue and long takes of Americana realism. The streets are not paved with gold and money does not grow on trees here. Instead, we are taken down the path of what it truly means to become an immigrant in the States—endless strip malls, ceaseless highways, and a total disregard for one’s predicaments. It could be Florida or Pennsylvania; But it could also be California or Oregon. Uricaru brilliantly ensures that the locale is never specified, instead using the deadpan grayness of the world surrounding Mara to invoke an Anywhere, USA feel that is as apathetic as it is unwavering in its drive to crush your soul.
And yet, as is the case with most immigrants who come to America to find stability and security, Mara perseveres. She is a steadfast individual, one that is aware of her predicaments and yet does not let it overwhelm her. At times it feels as though the weight and pressure surrounding Mara and Dragos would be enough to make even a federal agent who has been trained for psychological duress collapse. But the indefatigable Mara seldom lets her head slump down in despair, even when her powerlessness becomes increasingly apparent. From word-of-mouth lawyers to supportive friends, Mara does anything and everything in her power to retain any semblance of control that she can. But as life goes on and misdeeds go unpunished, it progressively becomes evident that there is little hope of finding respite here. Instead, one must do as all Americans do—settle for mediocrity. After all, the American Dream is no longer a reality.
Lemonade had its world premiere at this year’s Panorama section in the Berlinale. It is set to have its North American premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 19.