Eye For Film >> Movies >> Lili (2019) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
David Lynch has said that the great thing about digital film is that it allows a director to work with an actor over and over again, experimenting and refining until they deliver the very best work they're capable of. It's something that is pushing film into a space more like that traditionally occupied by theatre, but as more is demanded of performers, the pressure on individuals to surrender themselves to their roles has grown.
Where should the barrier between actor and character be? How much of the self can be sacrificed to make way for a fictional creation? It takes skill for an immersed performer to know where the edge is. Some of the best actors have no boundaries at all and end up like Heath Ledger or Philip Seymour Hoffman. Others say that what they need is to know they can trust their directors to look after them - but the #MeToo movement has made clear how untrustworthy directors can be, especially for young women just breaking into the industry.
Lili (Lisa Smit) is such a woman. She's arrived at her audition with her lines fully memorised but without adopting a fixed idea of what her character should be like. With prompting from the director who is sitting across from her (Derek de Lint), she experiments with different readings and adapt her body language. He keeps telling her that he thinks she can give it a little more, make it a bit more passionate. Clearly uncomfortable but anxious to be hired, she hesitates to set a boundary. Soon he's standing behind her, giving one of those shoulder massages that a certain kind of man thinks women find relaxing but which can't be relaxing because they signal that this is a certain kind of man. Then he's unbuttoning her shirt. Is this abuse? Is he just trying to get her into character? When should she tell him to stop?
Smit is excellent in the central role, doing something a little different with each layer of the performance - the person she is, the character she's playing, the character that character is playing in several different ways, and another hidden, deeper self perhaps best identified as the id. The film's twee ending sits uneasily alongside all this careful work but has a valid point of its own to make and highlights the assumptions about women on which exploitative behaviour is premised. It also made the film a natural fit at this year's Fantasia International Film Festival.
We never really get a good look at de Lint's character, which seems appropriate. He is a set of instructions, an unspoken power, a pair and hands that go where they should not. Smit sits facing the camera throughout, objectified by the film as much as by the audition. The way she wrests back control as an actor makes this a hell of a calling card. It's a simple tale, perhaps because the point that matters here ought to be simple, but there's a lot going on with that performance and it's beautifully put together.Reviewed on: 17 Aug 2019