Hong Khaou’s slow and unassuming drama, focuses on the coming together of an unlikely pairing, in the wake of a personal tragedy. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but for me, it was a uniquely moving viewing experience
The tragedy was that of Kai (Andrew Leung), a gay man in a relationship Richard (Ben Whishaw) who unfortunately died under awful circumstances. Leaving behind his Cambodian/Chinese mother, Junn (Pei-pei Cheng), who had no knowledge of their relationship; it presented a difficult situation for Richard to approach considering he was only perceived to be a “friend”. Junn is shown to be struggling to assimilate into this contrasting society, so Richard sees the death both as an opportunity and an obligation to assist her, much like Kai would have done had he still been alive.
Grief is dealt with in different ways, and Lilting appears as heart-breaking reminder that some choose not to show their grief in extreme fits of emotional volatility, but rather bottle it up and attempt to struggle on. Both Cheng and Whishaw channel this event in a mesmerising way, with glances that tell of unspeakable pain and allow time for the audience to absorb their inner agony. Not only is it a testament to their acting capabilities, but also completely necessary considering one of the main cultural differences is the language barrier between the two.
There are elements of the story that are perhaps out-of-place from a thematic perspective, but on the flipside they also provide occasional comedic moments to lighten the load. There’s a constant feeling of uncertainty, as no one in the film ever looks comfortable with the cards they have been dealt in this situation, flipping between laughter, crying or passive but meaningful dialogue.
For me, that was part of the appeal of the film. Intertwining these different elements, while maintaining the emotional frankness that is so difficult to capture, Lilting left me feeling full of hope for all involved, despite the undercurrent of bleakness. No easy task, but this air of genuine earnestness filtered into this dream-like state, and it was very easy to get lost in it.
Lilting is available on Netflix