Lilting movie review: when words fail

Lilting green light

A heartbreakingly lovely film about the seemingly insurmountable distances between us when sharing grief is too painful.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Oh dear, what a heartbreakingly lovely — and just plain heartbreaking — film. Elderly Chinese-Cambodian immigrant Junn (Pei-pei Cheng: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) never quite assimilated into life in London, and now that her only child, 20something Kai (Andrew Leung), is gone, taken in an unnamed tragedy, she is lost not only in grief but in isolation. With her husband also long dead, Kai was only her only connection to the world — she never learned to speak English — and now she is truly adrift and alone. And it’s really hard for her to accept help from Kai’s friend Richard (Ben Whishaw: The Zero Theorem), because she’s jealous of their relationship… and she doesn’t even know that they weren’t simply good friends but a couple. Kai never came out to his mother, though he was planning to, as we discover as the story alternates between the past, and Kai’s agony over having to move Junn to a residential home for elders with memory issues, and the present, as Richard attempts to open up Junn’s world by bringing in a friendly translator Vann (Naomi Christie) to help her communicate, particularly with her new gentleman friend, Alan (Peter Bowles: The Bank Job), a fellow resident in the home.

Writer and director Hong Khaou, making his feature debut, has crafted a deeply moving tale in which the seemingly insurmountable distances between people who are hurting privately take on additional piteous proportions: talking about a person we loved who is gone yet whose spirit still hovers over everything is hard enough when we share a language! And then there’s this, too: Khaou seems to contemplate the notion that maybe there are some things we shouldn’t share with one another, if a happy connection is what we desire. None of the sad ironies here are put to rest, as they cannot be, and the aching misery of Junn and Richard — beautifully expressed by Cheng and Whishaw in an actorly pas de deux in which they cannot actually speak to each other — will linger, as their pain clearly does.

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.
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