Film Review: Lilting

It has to be said, that it would appear on paper to be a risky idea to create a multi levelled film that tries to look at so many different aspects and obstacles in human life as Lilting sets out to do so; and all before then setting that risk in an Anglo-Chinese world just to ramp up the stakes. But that is exactly what this film does, and it does it with a stroke of genius.

Lilting is certainly independent, art house, film making. This is what true classic cinema is all about for me. It’s not a big screen blockbuster, it’s not throw away popcorn fodder. It’s cinema. It’s film making as a true art. It has goals, it’s has direction and it has soul. It may never grace the mainstream conscious, it may never see a multinational chain screen, but I can guarantee that the next time a “1000 films to see before you ‘op it” type book comes out, it’ll be in there. Probably at number 329.

Pei-pei Cheng - Lilting

The thing that hits you most with Lilting is just how natural it is. How much it creates a world that truly can, and does, exist. Up and down the country, as clocks tick forever forward, there is a forgotten society, a generation of discarded individuals to whom life is merely an endless wait, a monologue of day dreams. This film wants to look at that generation, to examine the very nature of being forced into a world you don’t fit into, but it wants to really up the stakes. It doesn’t want to just ask what it means to be forced beyond your wishes into a world you didn’t request. But instead, it wants to add the caveat, of what happens in that situation when you’re beyond your cultural, social and dialectical bounds as well.

What happens if you are essentially abandoned in a world you don’t, can’t and wont ever fit into?

If you think of Lilting as a tree, that main idea, that prominent question is the trunk. It’s the backbone, the weight bearer of the film, but you then have branches sprouting, growing, never losing grip on the safety of the trunk, but taking their own shape, evolving the story in to areas that when viewed as a whole form a coherent and structured object.

And in this case, we have language barriers, the effects of mature relationships, homosexual relationships, the maternal relationship and the effects of unknown sexual orientation on that. There are questions relating to the rights and wrong of untold love and how loss is handled internally and externally when it can’t be spoken of. As I said, there are so many layers to this film you’d be well within your rights to think that’s it’d have bitten off more than it can chew, but honestly it hasn’t.

Pei-pei Cheng & Ben Whishaw - Lilting

The reason it hasn’t is simple though. It’s cast. The matriarch of the film, the pivot on which everything rides, is Pei-pei Cheng, who is stunning. Her performance will leave you truly knowing what great acting can be like. She nails the part. The emotions she manages to convey, as well as, stir within will leave you torn: you want to side with her, you want to help her, but there are times when you can happily scream, shout and dare I say it, smack her round the head!

Ben Whishaw plays Richard, the caught in the middle “friend” and while is role is supportive to Pei-pei’s lead, he gets equally as much, if not more, screen time. He is there to act as the glue, the responsible bindings that hold all the layers of the film together, and he is convincing in the part. He feels real, he feels like you could easily walk past him in the street this afternoon. You will almost forget that he is in fact, just a fictional character in a fictional social monologue.

On that note, I’d go as far as saying that apart from Peter Bowles, who at times feels a little false and out of place in the film, the cast really do bring this situation, this world, to life in a way that will make you forget that is is fiction and not fact. That you can’t pick up the phone and speak to these people. Because honestly, I could easily go for a drink down the pub with Richard, and Naomi Christie’s character, Vann.

Pei-pei Cheng & Peter Bowles - Lilting

However, I do have one criticism of the film. It all feels a little too polished. There is a sense that while the acting is superb, the world into which they are set is too realistic. I kept feeling at times that everything was too micromanaged. I kept feeling that everything had been picked, placed or draped, in a specific way, for a specific reason and the world just felt a little clinical and sterile at times as a result. It was like looking at something that looks pristine, brand new, just out of the bubble wrap only to be told that it’s 400 years old. Somehow A and B don’t quite add up.

Don’t like that put you off it though. Lilting is beautiful, thought provoking and charming. It will make you think, and question and really look into yourself and how you’d handle the situations it raises throughout. Oh, and it’ll make you despair at just how bad with chopsticks you truly are!

8 out of 10 stars (8 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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