Lilting

October 19, 2014 at 4:47 pm | Posted in 2014 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊ ½

I knew very quickly I was going to like “Lilting,” the new film written by gay British-Cambodian film director and writer, Hong Khaou. This is Hong’s first feature film yet he knows how to linger in a moment and capture naturalistic performances from his actors– a critical requirement in a film about a  young man’s desire to help his dead lover’s elderly mother, despite her complete dislike of him. A plot like that could get maudlin quickly with heavy handed dialogue and exaggerated tempers. Restraint is key to making the subject matter work and Hong does this brilliantly by making the Chinese-Cambodian mother speak no English. This creates a natural slowing down of each scene and forces the actors to express more visually than they do verbally. It helps that the mother, Junn, is played by Cheng Pei-pei (known mostly to US audiences for her role as Jade Fox in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”). She is masterful at showing a range of emotions, most of them heartbreaking, without speaking a word of English. Equal to that task is Ben Whishaw (“Cloud Atlas,” the British TV series “The Hour,” and most notably the new Q in the current James Bond series). Whishaw, who plays the son’s lover, looks utterly broken and lost; from the moment you see him he looks like he has lost the love of his life. The scenes between these two actors are beautiful as we watch them do battle with facial expressions. The heaviness of these scenes is cut by a side plot involving Junn dating an elderly man who visits her in the nursing home. Though they ultimately are of no consequence to the story, these moments help to cut an otherwise intense mood. Some of the directing is a tad bit heavy-handed (for example, Junn’s home is decorated in a late 50s style while her son’s home is ultra-modern, suggesting their two clashing world views) but the one real stumble in the film occurs in the flashbacks between the lovers. There is just no real chemistry between Whishaw and Andrew Leung, who plays the son. In those scenes, Whishaw looks already heartbroken and lost. I can believe he loved his partner only when I don’t seem them together. That’s an unfortunate misstep in a film that otherwise captivated me from start to finish with a sweetly sad poignancy that ends on just the right note.

 

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