Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Cheng Pei Pei and Ben Wishaw in Lilting
"Although the pacing is sometimes poor, the sentiment - while occasionally straying towards the sentimental - is heartfelt and sweet spirited." | Photo: James Dewar

Communication and understanding are the key to the debut feature by Hong Khao - which was one of the opening day movies at Sundance this year. And Khao's definition of communication opens out from the idea of being divided by different languages to show how, in fact, those who can fully communicate in words may still feel unable to share their emotions while those unable to speak to one another may find a language barrier is no block to connection. He also uses the language gap to explore issues of miscommunication and the way that people deliberately withhold information from one another either for selfish or altruistic reasons.

Junn's connections in general are strained at the start of Lilting. Newly ensonsced in an old folks' home that she hates, we quickly learn that her son Kai and his boyfriend Richard (Ben Wishaw) would be more than happy for to come and live with them, the only problem being that Kai (Andrew Leung) hasn't told her about his homosexuality.

When Kai is removed from their lives, the pair struggle to come to terms with it. Junn (Cheng Pei-Pei) speaks virtually no English and finds herself alone in her grief, with the exception of the unexpected companionship of fellow home resident Alan (Peter Bowles) with whom she embarks on a romance without words. Richard, meanwhile, becomes increasingly desperate to somehow forge a connection, enlisting the help of an interpreter (Naomi Christie) in a bid to help.

This is, as the title suggests, a delicate and lyrical film, although the langorous camerawork from Urszula Pontikos and, particularly, the decision to unecessarily repeat a key scene, threaten to stall the story. The acting grips tight, however, with Wishaw and Cheng showing the paradoxical strength and fragility of grief, while Peter Bowles puts in such a terrific performance you wonder why more directors don't try to tempt him out of the theatre. Andrew Leung as Kai is weaker, however, with the chemistry between he and Wishaw failing to generate much heat. The number of key scenes taking place between them while scantily clad in bed also feels less like a ring of truth and more like an attempt to woo gay audiences.

Khao should be congratulated for constructing such a thoughtful film on a small budget. Although the pacing is sometimes poor, the sentiment - while occasionally straying towards the sentimental - is heartfelt and sweet spirited.

Reviewed on: 26 Mar 2014
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A bereaved mother and the boyfriend of her son find a connection.
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Owen Van Spall ****

Director: Hong Khaou

Writer: Hong Khaou

Starring: Ben Whishaw, Leila Wong, Morven Christie, Peter Bowles, Shane Salter, Pei-pei Cheng, Peter E. Hopkins, Andrew Leung, John Matthews

Year: 2014

Runtime: 86 minutes

Country: UK

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