A bittersweet coming-of-age film, Foreign Letters is itself a love letter to the unshakeable bond between friends. Set in the pre-email era of the 1980s, young Ellie, newly arrived to the US from Israel, anxiously waits for letters from her best friend back home.
Suffering from homesickness, language difficulties and rejection at school, life brightens when she meets Thuy, a Vietnamese refugee her age. As the two bond and become inseparable, they eventually hurt each other, and Ellie must find a way to restore their trust.
Based on director Ela Thier's personal immigration experience, Foreign Letters is a film about poverty, prejudice, shame, and the power of friendship to heal us.
I get asked, as a filmmaker, if my work pushes that proverbial envelope. The short answer is a loud and resounding yes, but the longer answer is more of a question: What does it actually mean to push the envelope, and why do we want to push it?
Does pushing the envelope mean shocking people, horrifying them, showing them something darker, meaner, sadder, riskier, edgier, sexier, more violent, more graphic, than they’ve ever seen before?
A friend once told me that she doesn’t go to the movies because there are only two kinds of films out there: the kind where people are mean to each other, and the kind where someone’s life revolves around an infatuation.
Pushing the envelope is not about finding new and even more horrifying ways of showing the same thing. So, at the risk of sounding a fool, at the risk of not being hip, at the risk of being an uncool, unedgy, unsexy simpleton, I’d like to suggest that a truly radical film, in our society, at this juncture in time, would be about honesty, about human connection, about genuine caring, about generosity.
This does not mean telling stories without conflict. On the contrary. The more openhearted we are, the more conflict ensues: Can I sit at her table…? Does she want to talk to me…? The courage it takes to reach for caring and connection is the envelop we want to push.
Behind the calluses and facades of coolness that we grew over the years in order to protect ourselves from humiliation — the real us, the best of who we really are, lies in wait. I believe that any story that reminds us of who we really are, under that suit of armor, won’t only push the envelop, but eliminate it.