Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Film: 'Lilting'

An impressive, touching, undemonstrative little film depicting an unusual situation, deserving of a wide viewing.

This was next on the list to see before I had my very public tumble on a Brighton street seven weeks ago, thereby having to cancel my intention. It's very fortuitous that a second chance came along, especially since I see it already being advertised as now available on DVD and Blu-Ray (whatever that is!).

Ben Whishaw plays the surviving member of a co-habiting couple after his partner dies. (We only get to know the cause of death just before the film's end.) He tries to make an approach to his partner's Chinese-Cambodian, non-English-speaking mother (Pei Pei Cheng), now single and in a residential home, in order to fulfil the obligation he feels to ensure she is well cared for. But she keeps a cool distance from him, resenting his having taken her son from her when she feels the son's first duty should have been towards her own welfare. She sees the couple as having had nothing more than a close friendship - or does she suspect the truth and is unable to accept it?
The Whishaw character brings in a young woman (Naomi Christie) to translate, ostensibly at first  for a counterpoint strand, namely a growing romance between the mother and another single, elderly English resident of the home, Peter Bowles (a well-known face for British TV viewers, and an actor whom I've also seen on stage a few times).  These two older 'love-birds', being unable to communicate in words, the translator is called in as a favour on Whishaw's part, to try to ease their relationship along, if and when they need it.  Inevitably, the translator also begins translating conversations between Whishaw and the mother, which at times gets painfully close to the bone when truths and underlying attitudes start coming to the surface. The young woman then finds herself as more than just a go-between and reluctantly finds herself being drawn into their world.
We see Whishaw with his late partner (Andrew Leung) several times in flashback, and though they superficially seem to be a fine-looking, loving couple, I got the feeling that the two of them could have had the occasional blazing row, both having fiery temperaments. But that was only my impression.

Much of the dialogue is in Mandarin - or was it Cambodian? ( I think not Cambodian, as actress Pei Pei Cheng - previously of 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' - is Chinese). All the conversations between her and her son, in flashback, are translated through subtitles, while between the mother and Bowles, and mother and Whishaw are translated directly by the young woman.

I was hooked on the story from the outset even though there's hardly any 'action'. It's a very emotion-based piece, but never monotonous for all that.
Every one of the quintet of actors was quite astonishing. It would be invidious to pick just one of them out for special praise. Nevertheless, that's exactly what I'm going to do, and name Naomi Christie (the translator) who manages to write her conflict and inner turmoil on her face as she witnesses things being said when she knows she ought to exercise detachment. Her under-the-skin performance is extraordinary. And then there's the mono-lingual mother, all emotion tightly constrained and knotted up in her body.

All in all a very satisfying and moving miniature drama. I'm glad to have had the chance to see it on screen. Director Hong Khaou (excellent and faultless) has shot it in wide-screen for some reason, when I would have thought that for something so domestic and intimate as this a normal ratio might have suited better. However, I'm not going to carp at that.

This has a good chance of finishing in my year's Top Ten.............7.5.


  1. Ah..a film which IS coming to theatre clwyd!
    Thanks will go and see this one

    1. Strongly recommended, J.G. If you don't like it I'll eat cat food for a day. (Just joking!)

  2. There are three films I am eagerly anticipating. This one is on top of the list. The other two are "Love Is Strange" and "The Skeleton Twins." Unfortunately, "Lilting" won't be released here until January - a long time to wait. For the sake of instant gratification, I might order the DVD from AmazonUK. The problem with that is Europe is Region 2,and not playable on US DVD players which is Region 1, but playable on the computer.

    To bring you up to speed on Blu-ray. It supersedes the DVD format in that it is capable of storing high-definition video resolution. In non-technical terms, you need a HD TV and a Blu-ray player. The picture is so sharp and clear that you can easily see every single hair on the arm of a person. And believe it or not, technology is moving so fast that more advances are rapidly coming out.

    1. I hadn't heard of 'Love is Strange', Paul, but having looked it up it sounds like a must-see. It doesn't open here until next Feb.
      I'll be seeing 'Skeleton Twins' too, opening here next month.

      You're going to like 'Lilting' as much as I did, that's for sure. It'll be one of those quite gentle films that lingers in the mind long afterwards. And if I sound a bit iffy about it making my Top 10 of 2014 I've just done a quick check through the 69 films I've seen so far this year, and competition is fierce. There are already 15 films up there which I'd want to make it to the final list with, no doubt, more to come.

      Blu-ray is for the true aficianados rather than the likes of me who cannot enjoy a film on TV anything like as much as I can in the cinema. Even DVDs are second best. I've never yet actually bought one but acquired about 20 of them over the years as freebies given out with magazines. I've only ever played one, ('Heat and Dust') on the computer but not keen to play any more as it's not comfortable enough. Anyway, I don't even know if this ancient DVD player still works.

      Btw: I see that the film 'Pride' which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago, has been given a '17' rating in the States. It got a '15' here, due to the 'language' (they say!). But 17 sounds a bit mean.

  3. Excellent review Ray. I'm going to put this film in my Netflix queue now. I love these human drama stories.

    1. You'll like it for sure, Ron. I can't imagine anyone. other than the most narrow-minded bigot NOT appreciating it - and thankfully I've got none of those in my followers.