Berlin 2021 Film Review – Language Lessons (2021)

This isn’t the first time we have said this, nor indeed will it be the last but 2020 really was awful, wasn’t it? In the grand scheme of things, of course, obeying the rules to stay at home to save lives pales in comparison to the insurmountable odds facing the medical community around the world and the immeasurable loss of millions across the continents. There might be an end in sight and, on the other side, everyone’s lives will be changed forever but that time away from loved ones, friends and colleagues has spurred many into new creative ventures that embrace the social distance between them, using it to tell stories that might otherwise never have seen the light of day

The world of Zoom has become the “new normal” for many, an essential tool for communicating with the outside world in the stay-at-home era, but also one that, if used in the right way, could be utilised for filmmaking as is the case for Natalie Morales‘ warm and welcoming directorial feature debut made with co-writer and co-star Mark Duplass in secret during the lockdowns. Spurred on by the Spanish lessons he took to break the monotony of re-watching Groundhog Day whilst living his own version, he pitched an idea to Morales, who he had worked with on HBO series “Room 104” and away they went.

Utilising their own indie filmmaking sensibilities and skeleton crews, their formed Language Lessons, their joyous ode to the importance of human connection even when we can’t have any, and the power of platonic love. A surprise present from his husband, Adam (Duplass) is thrust into 100 Spanish lessons, bought and paid for, with his new teacher Cariño (Morales) despite having a pretty good handle on the language. Soon, however, a tragedy strikes and the two confide in each other about their lives and loves and their student/teacher relationship becomes something much bigger.

Duplass remarked that making a film made this way would either work or be totally unwatchable and thus far in the “new normal” array of efforts have split audiences depending on their relationship with modern technology – as well as other factors – but Language Lessons is one of the better examples. Morales’ delicate direction mixed with Duplass’s unique comedic timing is a wonderful combination and there are real, raw feels that keep us reflecting as well as connecting.

True, it doesn’t always spring up smelling of roses – the nature of the film does begin to tire but at 90 minutes, it just about gets away with it – but what it does so effectively is tell a story of true, unfiltered human interaction, doing a better job than many similar films where people are in the same room. And for that, as well as two fantastic central turns, we should be thankful.

★★★1/2

Drama | USA, 2021 | NC-15 | Berlin Film Festival | Dir.Natalie Morales | Natalie Morales, Mark Duplass, Desean Terry