Lilting: secrets and lies
by Alfonso Rivera
- The British movie by Hong Khaou is screened in Seville. An intimate drama that tackles culture shock, isolation and grief, without ever over-doing it
Just four actors were used by director Hong Khaou, born in Cambodia in 1975 and trained in filmmaking in England, to build the emotional framework for his first movie: Lilting [+see also:
film profile]. The movie was shown in the New Waves section of the 11th Seville European Film Festival, following an appearance at the last Sundance festival.
Filmed almost entirely indoors, where the subtle, harmonious and modest set says a lot about the characters, the action takes place in the nursing home in which a Chinese mother is living and the apartment where her son used to share his bed with an English guy. The circular camera motion links the past with the present, without making a clear distinction between the two – just like in our brain. It alternates harmoniously feelings of affection, longing, alienation and pain caused by absence.
The movie is along the same sensitive and subtle line of another film that recently dealt with the conflict caused by the death of a loved one, Flowers [+see also:
film profile]. But, by including the intercultural issue, Lilting illustrates onscreen just how difficult communication can be between two strangers when long-kept secrets raise an insurmountable wall between them. Junn (Pei-pei Cheng) a woman who only speaks Chinese and has just lost her son Kai (Andrew Leung) in a fatal accident and Richard (Ben Whishaw), his secret lover are our two strangers. The young Englishman hires a translator so that he can communicate with his “mother-in-law” but, reconciliation won’t be as easy as it seemed initially, particularly when the deceased’s sexual orientation remains hidden from his mother.
With this storyline Hong Khaou could have fallen into the sentimental cliché that’s often abused by many an afternoon TV show. Instead, the director avoids tearful excesses like the plague and opts for subtlety in his unhurried and sensitive plot that’s both delicate and tainted with a melancholy emphasised by a photography that uses soft, winter and muted colours, courtesy of Polish Urszula Pontikos (Weekend [+see also:
Like Ang Lee did in his international debut in Cannes, back in 1993, with The Wedding Banquet, Hong Khaou looks at an Asian parent faced with the difficult fact of having her son’s private life in the West hidden from her; but while the director of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (in which we met Pei-pei Cheng) employed amusing and appealing comedy, the maker of short films like Waiting for Movement, Summer and Spring, opts for character drama instead, as if he were a talented gay student of Mike Leigh.
Filmed with a very small budget from Microwave Film London, and backed by SUMS* Film and Media and Stink Ltd., the movie will be distributed in Spain thanks to Surtsey Films, an independent company that supports this type of small scale film, capable of provoking powerful emotions... and reflections.
(Translated from Spanish)