Review: Lilting

Lilting offers a sensitive look at two people coping with the loss of a loved one and trying to reach some common understanding and hold on to their dearest memories. There are quite a few barriers they must overcome to try and reach that, just one of which is language. The title may refer to the tonal quality of a song that is a cornerstone of one memory and a particular sentiment, but also can be indicative of the certain uplift that exists in this bittersweet tale.

The synopsis is as follows:

In contemporary London, a Cambodian Chinese mother mourns the untimely death of her son. Her world is further disrupted by the presence of a stranger. We observe their difficulties in trying to connect with one another without a common language, as through a translator they begin to piece together memories of a man they both loved.

This is a film that, as is intimated in the above synopsis, does feature quite a few flashback sequences. That’s not really divulging a secret as it starts in one and the break back into the present is quite elegant and effective. It’s a film that certainly adheres to the rule of thumb about breaking chronology if it makes the film better. Here where you are dealing with two people coping with a lost the past is a pivotal player and constantly intrudes on the present.

What’s interesting is here you have another multicultural film, a story in part of immigration abroad and of globalized cinema, wherein translation plays a role. Vann (Naomi Christie) is brought in to proceedings to translate conversations between Alan (Peter Bowles) and Junn (Cheng Pei-Pei, as she was credited in this film) who have caught each other’s fancy at the retirement home they’re in. Eventually Vann allows Richard (Ben Whishaw) and Junn to talk to one another and try to get a better feel for each other as well.

As this is a film that is clearly driven by its characters, their interactions and what they must overcome the cast becomes a key component of the success of the film. Ben Whishaw and Andrew Leung have real connection and chemistry and with less screentime and playing a ghost Leung has to supercede his allotted screentime and create a far bigger presence and does just that. Whishaw also has to play the torn character carrying the burden of a secret and a sort of noblesse oblige to Junn, who in turn is wonderfully rendered by Pei-pei Cheng who gives her character a sense of real dimension hitting all the notes asked of her. Naomi Christie and Peter Bowles as intermediary figures round out the ensemble and add different perspectives than those of the sometimes-combatant parties, and also add some humor and additional emotional investment.

This film is one that will be coming to home video in the US through Strand Releasing and is one with a bit of an Award pedigree with nominations at the BAFTAs, BIFAs and Sundance that is worth looking out for. While one aspect of the ending leaves you needing to engage some suspension of disbelief and let it go there is a bit of closure, although its not as powerful as some other moments in the story.

It is a tidily wrapped up simple, short story that moves quite well and is evocative without being cloying and is definitely recommended.