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Lilting (2014) - Film Review

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Published February 24th 2015
A poignant, heartrending tale of love, loss, and acceptance
lilting, film review, ben whishaw, cheng pei pei, hong khaou, andrew leung,
Image courtesy of Strand Releasing

Lilting, written and directed by BAFTA-nominated director Hong Khaou, is an emotionally charged film centred around grief, cultural barriers, compassion, and love.

Junn, played by award-winning Chinese actress Cheng Pei-Pei (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), is a Cambodian-Chinese mother struggling to adjust to life in an English-speaking nursing home while mourning the death of her son, Kai (Andrew Leung; Doctor Who). She frequently recalls their last conversation together, and nurses bitter resentment for what she terms as her "prison" in the nursing home.

lilting, film review, ben whishaw, cheng pei pei, hong khaou, andrew leung,
Cheng Pei-Pei and Ben Whishaw, as Junn and Richard, in Lilting -

She takes solace in the company of one of the other residents, Alan (Peter Bowles; The Bank Job, Only When I Laugh), and they begin a platonic relationship despite not sharing a common language. Seeing this, Kai's friend Richard (Ben Whishaw; Cloud Atlas, Skyfall) hires the services of a translator, Vann (Naomi Christie), to help Junn and Alan get to know each other.

Vann's presence slowly starts to extend beyond simple translation, as Junn and Richard also begin to communicate with each other. Junn's deep dislike for Richard stems from his friendship with Kai, which she views as the reason why she was relegated to living in a nursing home, while they shared an apartment. Richard, meanwhile, is torn between the desire to look after Junn, and coming clean to her about his romantic relationship with Kai.

lilting, film review, ben whishaw, cheng pei pei, hong khaou, andrew leung,
Promotional image from LiltingMovie Facebook

With a cast of extraordinarily talented actors at the helm, Lilting delves into the lives of Junn and Kai, two strangers brought together by the loss of a man they both loved. The development of their relationship is haunted by the shadow of their individual histories, and their relationships with Kai; guilt and grief over his death mars most of their initial interaction. It is subtle and slow-paced, focusing more on the emotional and personal development of character than on a single, driving plot.

The language barriers experienced by the characters are seamless and masterfully handled in the film. Vann's initial presence as an impartial third-party is quickly compromised by her growing friendships with both Junn and Richard. It is through her that the audience sees their delicate and fragile connection begin to form, bridging the gap created by cultural differences and misunderstandings.

Lilting was released in the UK on 8 August, 2014; and on 26 September, 2014 in the US. It won the Cinematography Award: World Cinema Dramatic at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014, and has been nominated for a BAFTA for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer.

Lilting screened as part of the Mardi Gras Film Festival this year.
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Why? Beautiful, poignant, and haunting depiction of grief.
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