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04 October 2014 @ 09:12 pm
Film Review: Lilting  
After many months of me hoping this film would make it to New York, it finally did and I finally saw it.

Lilting stars Cheng Pei Pei, Ben Whishaw, Andrew Leung, and Naomi Christie.

Jun (Cheng) is a Cambodian Chinese woman living in an eldery care center in London. At the start of the film you find out her only son, Kai (Leung) has died suddenly in an accident, leaving her all alone in a country where she doesn't even speak the language. She's eventually visited by Kai's live-in boyfriend, Richard (Whishaw) whom Jun only knows as Kai's roommate and best friend. Despite Jun's less than welcoming attitude, Richard seems determined to help Jun adjust to her new circumstances and brings in a translator, Vann (Christie) to help Jun communicate with another resident at the home with whom she has a budding romance with.

This movie tackled a lot of issues. Immigration, assimilation, grief, aging, being a second generation child, coming out to one's parents, positions of privilege, I mean, you name it and this film probably touched on it. In fact, the sheer number of issues packed into this movie is what makes it so interesting and also so frustrating. The film was only 90 minutes and I wanted it to go on for another two hours. But at the same time, the film has a point in that issues this complicated cannot be fully realized in 90 minutes or 900 minutes.

The central theme of the movie is grief for obvious reasons. Richard grieving for his lost love by reaching out to Kai's mother. His motivations are complicated. On one hand, it's clear he's trying to help because he knew how much Kai loved and worried about Jun. On the other hand, it's clear he wants to connect with someone who is all that is left of Kai. At some point you get that his visits supposedly to help Jun are really more for his own benefit. The movie employs a kind of bleeding effect with the flashbacks where a scene in the present turns into a flashback without a cut and vice versa. I thought it worked rather well to demonstrate what grief can feel like as Jun and Richard each turn over their memories of Kai as they try to go about their lives.

As Jun, I know Cheng was the most criticized in some reviews as being too reticent in her performance but given what you learn about her in her final monologue, I thought her tone was rather perfect. Jun is someone who after the loss of her country, husband, and son is living with the weight of knowing she'll never really be happy again. She doesn't belong in England but she cannot leave it either to return to a place she's petrified she'll no longer recognize. She is all alone in the world and she feels it deeply but has told herself she has to carry on because what else can she do? Given this, I didn't see her performance as reticent so much as resilient. Jun does not weep or wail because if she were to start, she wouldn't be able to stop. She tries to take in whatever small pleasures she can as she lives out the remainder of her life.

On the flip side of this is Whishaw whom I'm pretty sure spent about 70 percent of this film in tears. And it was never manipulative but rather spoke to how much his character doesn't get a chance to really share the magnitude of what he's lost. For all the build up this film made about Jun finally learning about Kai's sexuality and his relationship with Richard, I thought the payoff was rather brief but made a lot of sense in the context of Jun and Richard's interactions throughout the movie. Jun got to see Richard cry on several occassions regarding Kai's death and no matter whatever language barrier, Jun is a human and she isn't an idiot. It's clear Richard's feelings for Kai surpass "best friend." By the time Richard tells her, her reaction is that of someone who figured it out long ago, possibly even when Kai was still alive.

This is an incredibly sad movie that's perhaps dotted with some happier moments. There's the light comedy of Jun's romance with Alan, despite neither of them ever understanding each other. And the easy friendship that develops between Richard and Vann. There are also some beautiful moments of connection between Jun and Richard, like Jun's delight when she notices Richard cooks bacon with chopsticks. God, that moment for whatever reason had me closer to tears than anything else in this film. The film makes it more than clear how much Richard loved Kai but seeing Kai's lingering influence on him in such a small, casual way made their relationship seem all the more real.

The movie doesn't really offer much in terms of a neat ending. I can only hope that Jun's life with continue to have more peaks of happiness through Alan and Richard and hopefully Vann as well. But unlike Richard whom I'm guessing will be able to move on eventually, Jun's life feels very settled into this floating state of contentment where she can no longer be intensely sad or happy again.