How far would you go for your green card? How much is the American dream worth? Romanian nurse Mara (Mălina Manovici) wants to settle in the US because she feels that the country could offer her and her 10-year-old child Dragos more opportunities than her homeland. She isn’t fleeing poverty or war. She came to the US in a work placement for six months, and then succeed to marry one of her patients. She’s well trained and educated. But she’s soon to discover that the “Land of the Free” isn’t quite ready to welcome her with open arms.
The film opens with an immigration officer interviewing Mara, who’s seeking to obtain a green card.. The questions are incredibly intrusive and awkward. Mara is asked to describe how she met her husband Daniel, and to share her feelings about him. She’s also questioned about trivialities of her life, as to why she sleeps with cotton in her ears. She explains “that’s an European, maybe even a Romanian thing” used in order to protect her teeth from a draught of wind. It feels a lot like a court hearing without the presumption of innocence. It looks like the officer is hellbent on finding the real reason why this immigrant came to his wonderful “America”, as he doesn’t seem to believe that love is a reason sufficient enough. Mara answers all the questions with relative calm and confidence
A second interview takes place in the movie, and the conversation begins to take a sinister turn. Mara has to talk about her allegiance to the US, and even disclose details of a sexual nature about her relationship with Daniel. The officer explains that Americans worked hard, and therefore he can’t let foreigners into the country without very thorough scrutiny. Even those who hate “America” want to live there, he claims. And so he makes an absurd demand. That’s when Mara begins to lose her cool.
Mara comes from a country riddled with corruption. She thought “things were different in the US”, she confides to her Serbian lawyer (who entered the US on a Bosnian passport, suggesting he too is used to dodging and dribbling the law). Her husband also seems to have vested interests. He suffered an accident, and is struggling to make ends meet. Mara is attempting to sell some property in Romania, and maybe this money would be convenient for Daniel. Just maybe. Or maybe he loves Mara indeed?
Lemonade denounces bigotry, xenophobia and a bureaucratic immigration system subjected to personal whims, often leaving applicants feeling vulnerable, patronised and humiliated. It also exposes the sheer ignorance of American authorities. Mara has to explain to her officer that her ear, nose and throat are connected, and clarify to policemen that Romanian is not an Arab language. But this is not a Manichaean film, either. Mara is not portrayed as pure and naive. She is simply pragmatic. While she insists that she loves her husband and they are genuinely involved in a romantic relationship, she’s also clear about the fact that there is a trade-off, and both parties benefit from the arrangement.
Lemonade showed in the 68th Berlin International Film Festival, when this piece was originally written. It premieres in the UK at the 38th Cambridge Film Festival, taking place October 25th to November 1st. The film was produced by the talented Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu, best known for 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007) and The Graduation (2015).