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Lilting

September 6, 2015

Lilting (2014)
Director: Hong Khaou
Actors: Ben Whishaw, Cheng Pei-pei, Naomi Christie

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Synopsis: Richard (Ben Whishaw) is a young Londoner, gently grieving the recent death of his boyfriend, Kai. Kai’s mother, Junn (Cheng Pei-pei), is an unintegrated Chinese lady, living in sheltered accommodation near London, so Richard sees an opportunity to make a tangential bond to Kai via his mother, while also helping Junn with her ‘integration’…

Review: As compassionate and tender as its subject matter, Hong Khaou’s gentle ode to the first shoots of recovery after a period of intense grieving is a beautiful work, made even more intriguing by its atypical raw materials – the Sino-Anglo personnel, the various barriers between the two leads (linguistic, plus the mutual suspicion of the other’s bond to the deceased Kai).

Khaou finds exactly the right tone and mood for the film – scenes fade in and out sensitively, the potentially genre-inflected elements of having switches between past and present plus a quasi-ghostly development are done incredibly tastefully, and just generally this is probably the quietest and least histrionic film I’ve seen for a long time (no mean feat when the subtext to the story is raw grief).

At worst, the film has a slightly gawky, earnest edge when it tries to overplay its theme of the struggles of contemporary communication (the scene where Richard first meets the translator Vann in a crowded restaurant, and Vann has to call Richard on her phone – making ironic our reliance on digital forms of correspondence – is strangely staged in that the restaurant isn’t at all busy, if she turned her head the other way she would see Richard sat all alone, but then Khaou’s wish to hammer home this piece of subtext wouldn’t have presented itself!)

That aside, it’s an exemplary film, beautifully acted by the two leads, and Ben Whishaw in particular offers such a compelling presence – his voice communicates such relaxed authority, that he barely looks as if he’s acting at all. (September 2015)

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