LGBT History Month Review: Lilting


Delicate, touching and avoiding any over-dramatization of its topic

  • 10

Hong Khaou’s Lilting is by far one of the strongest LGBT release of 2014. First shown in the UK as the opening film of the London BFI Flare after being a critical hit at Sundance 2014, the film had a rather small theatrical release in the country early August, before being released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Artificial Eye at the end of September last year. Delicate, touching and avoiding any over-dramatization of its topic, Lilting is a brilliant piece of cinema offering a reflexion on understanding differences, and dealing with the loneliness that follows, and sometimes precedes, the lost of someone dear.

Junn (Pei-pei Cheng), a Cambodian-Chinese mother, mourns the untimely death of her son Kai. Richard (Ben Whishaw), Kai’s partner, tries to connect with Junn and help her through her life without her son, in this country she never fully integrated. Without even sharing the same language, Junn and Richard slowly learn how to share and try to get over their pain, whilst getting to understand what the essence of each other’s relationship with Kai was.

Alternating between flashbacks, and sequences that edge between memories and fantasies, the film reconstructs Richard and Junn’s respective relationships with Kai, gently guiding the viewer towards an understanding of both’s reactions to the death of their loved one. Although brokenly edited, the film never is aggressive in cutting and linking one sequence from another. Every scene seems to lightly flow and lead to the next, the camera almost dancing on the pastel colours of the cinematography, which slowly leads to the final sequence of the film.

Delicately crafted, Lilting‘s climax tangles Richard – and Kai’s – coming out to Junn, with a monologue about loneliness from the mother. This finale works without any explosion, any drama and almost any surprise, avoiding the too-clich├ęd coming-out sequence usually depicted in films, and leaves place for a cinematic space of freedom, where the characters are finally liberated from too-much unsaid. Junn was tired of asking for attention; Richard and Kai were in love. The circle of memories are closed, we’re back to the beginning and the characters are now free to move on.

Lilting (2014), directed by Hong Khaou, is distributed in the UK by Artificial Eye, Certificate 15.



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Ex-Film Editor and future ex-MA student, dissecting films since 2006.

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