After his boyfriend Kai (Andrew Leung) dies, Richard (Ben Whishaw) attempts to form a relationship with Kai’s mother Junn (Pei-Pei Chung). The trouble is that Junn doesn’t speak any English and is deeply jealous of Richard, even though she is unaware that her son was gay. Richard enlists the help of a translator to try and make the transition more smooth, but understanding what one another says does not always make Junn and Richard’s relationship better.
The vein that runs through Lilting is one of understanding. Not only do Richard and Junn have a language barrier, but they also suffer from cultural misunderstandings, as well as a lack of understanding of one another as people.
As the central couple of the film, Whishaw and Chung have strong chemistry and give nuanced and engaging performances. Both characters are tinged with sadness and regret over the loss of Kai, yet both are passionate in their defence of Kai as a person, without realising that one person can be different things to different people.
The rest of the cast are fine in their roles – Peter Bowles as Alan, Naomi Christie as Vann – but compared with the central performances of the film, they feel wooden and their performances lack nuance and subtlety.
Writer/Director Hong Khaou has created a film that hinges on understanding between people, and as such, is an interesting look at not only the relationships that people have with one another, but the fear of loss of identity by assimilating into a different culture. Khaou’s screenplay is engaging and gentle, but he stumbles as a director, by focusing too much on Richard and Junn, thereby allowing the supporting cast to whither and their performances to jar against the rest of the film.
Lilting is an engaging look at the relationships we form in life. The screenplay examines loss of culture, loss of family and the loss of those we love, while juxtaposing this with unexpectedly finding someone new in life. The trouble is that the film suffers from weak supporting performances and some stubbornness on the behalf of characters. Still, the film is a good watch and an interesting cultural examination.