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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Review: Lilting

I walked into Lilting blind, knowing nothing but the fact that it starred Ben Wishaw, of whom I am a huge fan. 

There were a lot of things about Lilting that completely shocked me. You could have told me it was made by a film veteran maker, with a $5 million budget, and I'd have nodded and shrugged. It would have made sense. But when the film ended, I pulled up the production information. Written and directed by a first-timer, Hong Khau. Made for a mere $250,000 as part of Film London's Microwave project, which aims to provide financial support to up-and-coming artists. 

Is this really the movie I just watched? 

Lilting depicts the life of Junn (Pei Pei Cheng), an elderly Chinese woman living in a care home in London. Junn is living there because her son, Kai (Andrew Leung), put her in the home against her will, and shortly before he could move her out, died in an accident. 

Junn is completely alone. Her husband is dead, and she doesn't know English, which made Kai her only connection to the outside world. Kai had been living with his boyfriend of four years, Richard, at the time of his accident, who attempts to make contact with Junn. This proves difficult, not only because of the language barrier between them, but because Junn was unaware of Kai's sexuality, and Richard struggles with how forthright about their situation he can really be.

"Lilting" refers to a rhythmic form of movement, sort of a quasi-dance/stride. The feeling of that somewhat foreign word compactly sums up this movie: fairly unknown and hyper-niche at first glance, punctuated by subtlety and grace. Richard spends most of his interpreted conversations with Junn doing a slow, careful dance - each sentence laden with potential landmines, whether it's exposing the true nature of Richard's relationship with her son, or perpetrating a cultural (or even generational) misunderstanding. Almost every step forward is followed by several steps back.

The film also approaches storytelling in a very subtle, graceful way, allowing Richard and Junn to remember Kai through flashbacks, and to mourn him in those small and realistic ways. We don't see Richard cradling Kai's body as he dies; we see Richard struggle with the more mundane steps of every day life, like making a bacon sandwich in the way Kai taught him. 

Lilting is one of those very rare films that shows you a very specific and unique point of view about something you may not have thought of before. Strong performances from Wishaw and Cheng, as well as a debut role for Naomi Christie as their interpreter, allow the delicate subject to remain tight and captivating. Lilting also manages to handle its admittedly dramatic plot with a very matter-of-fact, straightforward approach, even peppering in moments of hope as we see Richard make small steps forward in his exchanges with Junn. 

Overall consensus: For Immediate Consumption

For our Atlanta readers: Lilting is now playing at Landmark Midtown Arts Cinema.
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