Plot: “A young man of Chinese-Cambodian descent dies, leaving behind his isolated mother and his 4-year male lover, who grieve but don’t speak a lick of each other’s language.” (imdb.com)
Director: Hong Khaou
Stars: Ben Whishaw, Naomi Christie, Pei-Pei Cheng
Genre: Drama, Romance
Lilting is a film about a man called Richard (Ben Whishaw) and a woman called Junn (Pei-Pei Cheng). What do they have in common? Well, Richard’s boyfriend Kai, Junn’s only son, has died unexpectedly. Richard desperately tries to reach out to Junn who lives in an assisted-living home but neither of them speaks each other’s language. As if that wasn’t enough, Junn is not aware her son was gay (unaware or in denial?), she believed Richard was only just a friend of Kai’s and she makes no secret of her dislike for him. Richard tries to find a way to communicate with his dead boyfriend’s mother and hires Vann (Naomi Christie) as a translator so they can have a conversation. However, Junn is being extremely difficult throughout Vann and Richard’s visits. Although she blatantly insults and disrespects him, Richard feels responsible for Junn and wants her to live with him so he can take care of her.
I found it hard to like Junn but Richard earned my fondness with his sweet manners and thoughtfulness. It’s not difficult to fall in love with him; he’s a young man who despite having just lost the love of his life and struggling to cope, selflessly tries to help a woman who clearly resents him. The relationship between Richard and Vann is quite interesting, they seem to become friends very quickly and we see Richard slipping away from his misery for a while and genuinely having fun with another person.
Ben Whishaw is one of my favourite actors and he leaves me speechless with his performances every time. In Lilting he gives another extraordinary performance and he is an absolute joy to watch. He portrays Richard, a man in mourning who tries to stay strong, in such a beautiful and delicate yet vulnerable way. Everything, from his face and his voice to his body language, is so emotionally expressive that makes you want to wrap him in your arms and tell him that everything is going to be okay.
With the help of conveniently placed flashbacks, we see the relationship between Kai and Richard but also the relationship between Kai and his mother. They both replay their happy memories of Kai again and again. Overall, it’s a sweet but tragic and heartbreaking story about two people struggling to cope now that their loved one is dead. The film might be slow-paced but not boring. There’s no shattering climax, no unexpected suprises. One might even say that the conclusion is rather predictable but, in my opinion, it made the film more realistic. If someone asked me to give them a reason to watch this film, I’d say “do it for Ben Whishaw”. How and why is that boy so underrated?!