Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Lilting (2014): Posthumously Gay

Lilting (2014)
dir: Hong Khaou

SIFF 2014 Film #12

Chinese traditionalism meets English modernism in Lilting, a movie exploring death and homosexuality in the face of conservative parental figures.

Junn, the matriarchal figure of Lilting recently lost her son Kai. In the opening scene, she fantasizes having an ideal joyous conversation with Kai in the nursing home. She wishes she could live with Kai, except that she hates his “best friend,” Richard, whom she detests because she doesn’t understand how Richard and Kai fit together.

The complication of Lilting is that Junn never learned English. She speaks 6 separate dialects of Chinese-based language, but never picked up English. When Richard comes to visit Junn for the first time, they can’t communicate across the language barrier. Junn can only communicate with her new boyfriend, Alan, through intimate behaviors, and not through actual speaking. Richard, however, employs Vann in order to communicate.

Complicating matters further is that Kai had never come out to Junn. She was under the understanding that Richard was just a “friend” and not Kai’s long-term boyfriend. They lived together for years. They have a nice but small loft. When Junn had to move into a nursing home, she couldn’t understand why she couldn’t live with Kai, and resented Richard for the decisions.

Lilting is complicated, original, and tragic enough to move the heartstrings. When Richard struggles with Kai’s loss, but has to mask the depth of his loss to Kai’s mother while also trying to reach her across the void, it’s a genuinely moving emotion that isn’t played for the rafters, nor is it fine tuned to pull the heart strings. Sure, Lilting is suffering from shoegazing cinematic techniques, as it has an overuse of a bland color palette, soft focus, lens flares, and blurry imagery (just to name a few of its borrowed techniques), but the tender subject matter of debating whether or not to posthumously out your dead lover to his mother while also struggling with the desire to not leave her behind actually makes the whole film work.

Ben Wishaw (Richard), Pei-Pei Cheng (Junn) and Naomi Christie have a chemistry that emphasizes the complicated emotions and simmering tensions between the characters. Their work together fills the screen with complexity and raw emotion. But, the other triangle between Peter Bowles (Alan), Pei-Pei, and Naomi doesn’t work nearly as well, and it doesn’t resolve as neatly. The story feels almost as an emphasis for Junn’s stubbornness, and the difficulty that she has even with people she likes, though this could have been better communicated through more scenes with Junn and Kai.

The tragedy and sadness that permeates Lilting is what separates Lilting from all of the other LGBTQ films which are all celebrations of the lifestyle. Lilting is barely about the gay lifestyle, but instead about dealing with the closet as an adult. Its emphasis about conservative stances stemming from traditional behaviors, stubbornness, and a desire to keep everything as it was out of security. Lilting confronts the nature of the need for an adult closet, and how it obscures everything in life. Lilting is about marrying into family, even if they don’t like it. It's about all of these things and it hits all of its marks.

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