Ioana Uricaru’s stunning feature length debut LEMONADE is a brooding piece, set in the backdrop of modern day America, and follows a single mother in her quest for a new, better life in the land of the free. Based on the directors own personal experience as an immigrant in America, we gaze into the diasporic community that our lead has assimilated herself into.
Our story begins with Mara (Mãlina Manovici) as she receives an injection. She is a romanian immigrant, married to an american man she met when she was working as a nurse in America. From the offset we witness the condescending way in which other people treat her. The doctor and his nurse speak down to Mara, and this echoes throughout the film. Her husband Daniel (Dylan Smith) picks her up, and subtly voices his own reservations for the nurse who “probably wasn’t an american”. After Mara’s son Dragos (Milan Hurduc) arrives, and following a run-in with the man that can grant her a green card- the pieces begin to fall into place. Mara’s intentions come to the foreground, though ambiguously, as it appears she is not with Daniel because she loves him, but is instead committing marriage fraud as a way to get her green card.
LEMONADE is a stark example of slice-of-life filmmaking. We are with Mara the entire way through the film, never leaving her, whether she be in the car with her husband or getting the bus with her son. The audience feels both a spectator and participant of her life, merely flitting from place to place, passengers in her voyage towards the ‘American Dream’. Each encounter Mara has accentuates the gross realism of life for immigrants in America. When Mara talks to the police outside of a motel room, they ask her what language she is speaking. When she replies with “Romanian” they counteract dumbly with “Is that an arabic language?”. These small episodes of prejudice prick the narrative, and Manovici conducts a heart-wrenching performance.
Uricaru’s direction of these scenes (of which the film has many) uses a handheld camera and naturalistic acting and script to portray the harsh reality of the film, effectively generating more than just a drama, but also a political statement, and one that doesn’t feel too forced. Uricaru conveys Mara’s emotions through lengthy shots, focusing away from the action of the scene and towards her raw intensity as a mother trying to do the best for her child.
This film is a touching, and at times, a difficult to watch, social drama. It leaves both the audience and lead role in a moral quandary. How far would you go for a better life? And…is it always worth it?