Human connections transcend language barriers in this quiet, complex family drama about love and loss.
Visiting her in her residential home, Kai (Andrew Leung) has forgotten a CD that his mother Junn (Pei-pei Cheng) has asked him for several times. She chides him, but at least he brought her flowers. These small gestures take on grander meanings as it becomes clear that Kai is no longer alive and Junn is reliving past conversations, or imagining ones that she’ll never get to have.
Richard (Ben Whishaw) is the boyfriend that Kai has left behind, who is also reliving his memories of their life together. Grieving, and feeling guilty over Junn’s temporary-turned-permanent housing situation, Richard visits her to try and forge a last connection to Kai and to help her, as the couple had set out to just a few weeks before.
Richard takes on Kai’s duties towards Junn, shouldering the responsibility for her wellbeing. He also does not reveal Kai’s undisclosed homosexuality to Junn, disguising himself as Kai’s housemate and best friend, though it leaves him unable to express how deeply he is grieving.
Junn barely speaks any English, so Richard hires Vann as a translator (Naomi Christie) to get the conversation started between him, Junn and Junn’s new boyfriend Alan (Peter Bowles).
The mismatched foursome have stilted, awkward, and heartwarming conversations, ranging from favourite colours, to bad habits, to what to do with Kai’s ashes.
We see that sometimes it’s easier not to understand what someone else is saying; Junn and Alan only begin to fight when they can verbally understand each other through the translator. Perhaps the importance of communication isn’t what is being said, but instead, the action of saying it. Even though they can’t always understand each other, verbally or culturally, Richard and Junn overcome their differences with emotionally charged glances; grief is universal. Perhaps we can only speak honestly when we know that the listener won’t be able to understand our words, but will access the emotions conveyed and the meanings behind them.
Whishaw’s performance is strong and moving, giving us a personal insight into Richard’s grief that he cannot show to Junn. Christie too is a highlight, with her character Vann straddling both the cultural and linguistic sides of the story. She sees the different perspectives of Junn, Richard and Alan and is privy to information that one party doesn’t want passed over to the other, becoming personally involved in their conversations and unable to remain simply a conduit.
Having highlighted the importance of the tiny things we often miss in life, LILTING makes you appreciate them even more, whether it’s a favourite CD, some flowers, or using chopsticks to turn your bacon. It remains quietly emotional without being overly sentimental, and is a film that will linger in the mind.