We managed to catch the excellent Lilting for the BFI: Flare: London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival gala, courtesy of American Airlines. And we’re glad we did!
Lilting, written and directed by Cambodian-born (but British resident) Hong Khaou tells the story two people finding each other in the aftermath of a devastating bereavement: A non-English-speaking mother (Cheng) whose only lifeline into an alien and intimidating culture is suddenly severed; and her son Kai’s secret boyfriend Richard (Whishaw), whose world crumbles when the love of his life is so cruelly taken away. Having previously battled him for her son’s love and attention, mother and boyfriend must now come to terms with the reality of life without Kai, and what that means for both of them.
Tackling themes of love, loss, loneliness and coming out, this isn’t a film that pulls punches – the grief portrayed by Whishaw and Cheng is real, raw and gripping, drawing the viewer in and enveloping them in a cold, isolated world that until recently felt very different for everyone concerned.
With landscape shots of countryside in winter and bizarre retro-style interior design at the nursing home, the film really underscores feelings of isolation and being adrift from the rest of the world, a state that naturally fosters the closeness between Cheng’s lonely mother and Roger, the amorous gentleman resident of the same home, played with awkward finesse by the incredibly talented Peter Bowles – despite their seemingly insurmountable language barrier.
Whishaw excels as the grief-wracked lover – red-eyed, snotty, never more than a few seconds from tears; a superb counterpoint to Cheng’s stolid, internalised pain of a mother who outlived her only son.
It might be said that some of the dialogue between Kai and Richard in the flashback scenes is slighly clunky and expositionary, however one might argue that this isn’t a traditional love story, the audience is not here to be convinced that these two are falling in love; but rather a story of what happens when a solid, dependable love is snatched cruelly away.
It would be facile to describe Lilting as ‘haunting’, as Kai’s appearances via memories and flashbacks add an extra level of poignant melancholy, but as Ben Wishaw explained “There was something about the story that stayed with me… Days after reading it, I knew it was something I wanted to be involved in,” – this is not a film easily dismissed once the credits roll.
Reviewer: Scott Elliott