Lilting : A Film Review

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Director: Hong Khaou, cast: Ben Whishaw, Cheng Pei Pei, Naomi Christie, Andrew Leung, Peter Bowles, : 1hr 31mins
Six Characters Bound Together.

Around Grief
This film is a chamber piece in the sense it contains its story in a tightly bound cast.
Pivotal is Kai (Andrew Leung) who is killed by a car as he is walking to meet his mother, the Chinese-Cambodian mother Junn (Cheng Pei Pei)
Richard (Ben Whishaw) is introduced as the partner of Kai.
This unsettling event turns everything upside down.
Grief is overwhelming to Richard as he dresses in some of Kai’s clothes and draws himself closer to his unknown almost, nemesis Junn whose own world is now without family or domestic reference with her still being in the sheltered manor house chosen as a temporary refugee.
The three had shared a house, Richard as a housemate. Kai has placed his own imprint on.

It is a split level cut back to the brick Camden Lock type location. Kai is confident hence the imprint which is only partially Chinese in character with line drawing prints.
His identity is sharply European Chinese while Richard relies on his sense of self and internalises his British character. His way with things is however intense and some have called this magnetic.
It so happens the confines of this MICROWAVE budgeted film, apparently made for £120,000, are life as bonsai.The BBC Films might account for some lead funding. Few locations are used and the pace is very sedate.
The cast is strong and Kai’s mother Junn has an awful time with this strange country the family arrived in many years back.
Language is a silent barrier
Unbeknownst – language is the most infuriating part of their lives, all of their lives, it is intensely suffocating in a lot of the film – Junn has no inkling of her sons predisposition which itself is not normal but possibly cultural.
To Junn, Richard and Kai’s relationship is not the “best friends” tag used often.
England as Pastoral.
The home she stays in is semi rural with a sweeping drive and lawns.
It actually could be off Hanger Lane or up to esturial Essex is so Manor House pastiche.
Hong Khaou insists on showing several quite still frames of frosted fields and trees linear and controlled edging a sweet comforting vision of this England. Junn mentions how Kai’s father thought the NHS and clean water were heaven sent. There is this adoration but this is a frozen picture of life here and it is for Junn almost a vacuum.
The saxifrage family of plants are touched upon again symbolic.
Like the aspidistra is symbolic of Lancashire house plants in seedy lodgings run by lacey landladies.
Mixed Flashbacks
With Kai having died the story has to make him the central character in absentia and the relationships with his mother and Richard are frequently revisited. The effect to begin with disturbs the progress of elements often making it ‘stilted’ and a broken cadence which only improves as pieces of the small number of characters bring tone and their own presence after the first cluster of pieces. Kai has temporarily moved his mother into a sheltered time shifted, 50’s, shared manor house savouring the period of the occupants youth with G plan furniture and few modern signals.
Junn is like a Koi fish swimming in circles around surreal features and odd people doing crosswords and reading pat fiction.
Lothario in Flannels (those trousers with a permanent crease)
Time hangs heavy and when Kai visits Junn’s dislike of the best friend is strongly divisive in their already troubled relationship it exposed the isolation felt by Junn.
Kai has no real answer except the promise of this arrangement being temporary. She mentions the fellow house mate, an Englishman, Alan, (Peter Bowles) one oddly sympathises with this fulsome actors appearance as a nearly empty vessel plodding through an ill-fitting part, others may disagree depending on their familiarity with his other more suave manifestations. The Lothario sends her flowers and she is genuinely grateful of the attention.
Cheng Pei Pei
She in a former film life known as the Queen of Chinese Martial Arts in Hong Kong at least, which the intensely demure inactive or her playing is remarkably at odds with here given the Crouching Tiger identity.
Junn is an elegant fresh faced creature of a settled disposition, a kind of Judy Dench, distinctly not Helen Mirren coquettish phenomenon or a Joanna Lumley (whose age remains the same?) Junn is a soft kitten who dislikes the more physical side of Alan’s attention. She puts up with it and Richard has found a young Chinese Interpreter. Vann (Naomi Christie), who acts instantly as the joining go-between. Her work in this side story is entwined with Richards own need to communicate and show his willingness to help.
Vann (Naomi Christie), has no emotional baggage but becomes involved in the hallucinosis grief brings into the life’s of those touched by the loss of Kai.

For young people grief can be very, very, challenging to put into place.

 

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Has it happened for a reason is the main question asked by them and all ages. Is it my turn next? Invincibility exists in films only or the books and stories they trace and depict.
For youth it seems so meaningless and arbitrary. IT has no value but every value ever present. All life is defined by it and to say it is ever present is to state its obvious cocooning of us in a human relation with others whose fragility we recognise and see reflections in.
Currently what do we see? We see murderers walk the streets, we see death visit the house nearby or in someone we are close to pressing on the mirror.
Noticing their breath appear. Then moving off to a funeral to pay tribute to the person past. We see the taking of the lives of children, of young soldiers rounded up and summarily executing while pleading for their lives. We see musicians, entertainers, actresses and scientists et al leave the stage of dreams and leaving us a legacy.
All in the end is Harvest
Nations do not distinguish death but poets and writers can and do celebrate the inhibition filling the mind before it laments into memory.
Eurydice by Edith Sitwell has the above line.
Love is not changed by Death,
And nothing is lost and all in the end is harvest.

Junn experiences loss and cannot express it.
In Eurydice Edith Sitwell places a conjecture on the continuity of love. Her sense of the immensity of love in the person tends to put affection, touch, compassion, companionship locus in quo. It was, now the love carries on without the physical body and the mind must expand into the newness and reshape that love to actually produce feelings of consequence.
It is how Edith Sitwell grasps the concept so simply.

The prolonged life beyond times measure.
One of the finer writers on this for me happens to be the philosopher Bertrand Russell. His logic consists I think of the immeasurable infinite reach of death. He Does not draw the afterlife as the bible prophesies of an oracular kind. Being a non-sententious person he knows no less than anyone so celebrates the portion that brings last breath. Where the life was and where it began is all that matters truly. The infinity of truth is the widest dream.
The Word is wise beyond our realm. It is summoned from the old world.
The ancient forms of life that drew life short replaceable but not renewable.
Edith Sitwell envisages us as cells that disintegrate, become parts of other things, remain elemental. The name Edith has as its derivation Old English of a conflicted triangle – meaning Happy, Rich and War.
Back on the subject of language William Morris described being bereft of your ‘speech-friend‘ harrowing to the extent holding a conversation with someone was like asking a favour.
Shakespeare’s words from Macbeth proclaim
Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak
Whispers the o’erfraught heart, and bids it break.

And finally Bertrand Russell from The Conquest of Happiness…’ Surmount all misfortunes by the emergence after each blow of an interest in life and the world which cannot be narrowed down so much as to make one loss fatal. ….all our affections are at the mercy of death, ….our lives should not have that narrow intensity which puts the whole meaning and purpose of life at the mercy of accident.

Conclusion ### 3
For the film to take on the subject is very commendable. The problem arises in not being connected with the drama emotionally. Playing with distractions of editing and vocal speakover fragments and disorientates without sufficient forward story telling it became irratatingly. Frame on frame an stop frame content was a bit mind numbingly tedious.
A death of film took place at times. I am reminded of the question asked by Levi-Strauss (Claude) ‘Is mine the only voice to bear witness to the impossibility of escapism.’ Hence Liltings trap. His world of remnants as Edith Sitwell similarly adjudged. He also wrote ‘all cultural forms are ‘necessary illusions’, systems of signification substituted for experiences that cannot be communicated, cannot be known directly, however they are lived. Lilting leaves us bereft of the filling of the void and only through the personal experience shall reality seem present and that through indirectness being conceived. The dilemmas are convincing and generously portrayed with a slight shortfall in atmosphere; the cinematography is a mix of designed approaches maybe imposed through direction but it lacked a cohesive feel. I would recommend this film purely on the basis of the very present subject infiltrating everyone’s lives and this assured story, the film less obviously delivering it, takes us along the path of awareness and sympathy for the grief accompanying the people of all nations.
It is partially subtitled and principally played in English.
It should be received well in China if the generalisations are not to great to be acceptable.

 

John Graham

8 August 2014

Belfast

QFT from Friday 15 August (@6.40pm) also on earlier on the Saturday/Sunday @5.40pm then back to 6.40pm on the Monday then to the following Thursday 21 August 2014 all remaining @ 9.00/9.10pm.
Can’t believe I flagged up the times! See QFT for further details!

Also expect a screening by the BBC but everyone KNOWS how superior the Cinema experience is and it is even more comfortable in the newly refurbished Screen 2.

Be sure to mix your screen experience between the above more somber and more esoteric – The Deamers, Two days One night, Bad timing, The Shout, Naked Lunch and Kon-Tiki to name a few coming soon to QFT.

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