Lilting

| August 7, 2014 | Comments (0)

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DIR/WRI: Hong Khaou • PRO: Dominic Buchanan • DOP: Urszula Pontikos • ED: Mark Towns • DES: Miren Marañón  • MUS: Stuart Earl • CAST: Ben Whishaw, Morven Christie, Peter Bowles

Floral wallpaper, rustic furnishings and black & white photographs, ornate and uncluttered in the feng shui aesthetic, accompanied by a jaunty Chinese ballad, belie the true setting and atmosphere of Lilting’s dreamy opening. Cambodian-Chinese sixty-something Junn (Pei-Pei Cheng) sits by a window, unmoving and alone, the past merely a time capsule in the present, the environs a care home in London. So begins director Hong Khaou’s feature film debut, a delicately arranged chamber drama about love, loss and cultural disparity.

When an accident claims the life of her son Kai (Andrew Leung), Junn’s only living link is his best friend Richard (Ben Whishaw), who struggles to reveal that they were also in fact lovers. Richard enlists the help of a translator to conduct their conversations but instead of sharing their grief they selfishly withhold their memories of Kai and petty jealousies ensue. Junn feels abandoned and blames Richard for robbing her of time with Kai while Richard despises the vice-like grip he feels she held over his life and liberty.

Initially, their preconceived notions give way to some common ground and Junn even appreciates Richard’s deed to help her communicate with another resident of the care home she’s smitten with but they remain wary of one another, as each step forward seems to illicit two steps back. This push-and-pull dynamic makes for some interesting scene fodder and the three-way bilingual conversations are a real highlight when they could so easily have been a hindrance. Vann (Naomi Christie) provides translation and is luckily never treated simply as a means to an end, often playing mediator between parties, sometimes to comedic effect as she tries to bring Junn and her fancy man Alan (Peter Bowles) closer together.

This is a drama of interiors and few at that, Junn’s care home and Richard’s apartment provide the scenery but as an air of mourning presides over these environments the atmosphere is ever changing. Added to the mix are a series of flashbacks that help to flesh out Kai’s relationship with Richard and Junn without pandering to the audience and the seamless transitions from past to present are expertly wrought.

We are also dealing with interior emotions so performance takes precedence and while Whishaw delivers another memorable turn, Cheng (perhaps best known to Western audiences as the villainous Jade Fox from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) steals the show in a complex role equal parts vulnerable but unyielding, like a wounded animal in an alien environment.

Director Khaou delivers on the promises of his short film successes with an elegant and intimate drama, quietly confident and deftly directed. The reliance of the close-up may benumb some but the players and the play never seem restrained with a soul-stirring rhythm and tone resonating throughout.

Anthony Assad

86 mins

Lilting is released on 8th August 2014

 

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Category: Cinema Reviews, Reviews

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