Lilting Review: Quiet Grieving

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The ability to love is inherently human. Loving your child. Loving your parent. Loving that person that snaps into your piece of the puzzle and challenges and defends you. At its most pure, love transcends race and gender, a point that Lilting beautifully sells as quietly as it possibly can.

When the film starts, Kai (Andrew Leung) is already dead, leaving his loved ones to pick up the pieces. In a clever mix of flashbacks and wishful daydreams, it is quickly established that the two most important people in Kai’s life were his boyfriend Richard (Ben Whishaw) and his mother Junn (Cheng Pei Pei). Kai never came out to his mother, robbing her of truly appreciating the that Richard made him feel whole. Now Richard is trying his best to create a connection to the only other person in Kai’s life that’s in as much pain as he is.

Lilting is a film about people coming together to help each other out in their time of need. It’s about conquering loneliness and finding ways to connect with a person, dead or alive, through new means.

This story could have easily been about Junn’s Chinese-Cambodian traditions getting in the way of her acceptance of who her son really was. For a rare film featuring an interracial same-sex couple, that would have been an easy route to go.

But writer-director Hong Khaou is much more interested in the human connection than our prejudices. The fact is, a piece of Kai lives on in both of them. Watching Richard and Junn discover the different parts of their loved on in each other is beautiful. Sometimes the overly depressing score invades an otherwise perfect moment, but for the most part, Lilting lands when it means to.

It helps that we have a set of three very real performances bringing humility right to the surface. Whishaw and Leung have an immediate chemistry in their few scenes together, while Cheng Pei Pei barely needs the subtitles to get her emotions across.

Of course, Lilting is hardly groundbreaking or anything. But there are some really beautiful and real moments that elevate what could have just been another LGBT melodrama to a quiet wonder. All you have to do to connect with this film is to have loved and lost. The rest is projected in front of you for you to take it in. Grade: A-

By Matt Dougherty

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