Lilting is a sensory experience. Describing a film in this way typically refers to the two expected senses: sight and sound. Hong Khaou’s debut feature film evokes scent; given all the references to smell, I don’t think it’s accidental. It has the delicate odour of clean skin, that sickly sweet smell of warm milk. The whole film has a kind of milkiness – the pale coolness of its visuals, or the way it fractures time like the shards of freshly cracked crème brûlée. Conversations continue with scant consideration of cuts. The present and the past are smoothly swirled together.
The film’s development and sustainment of this tranquil mood is impressive, but what of the storyline? It concerns similar subject matter to A Single Man or Tom at the Farm – reconciling the loss of a lover with the secrecy associated with a closeted partner – but only skims gently across these themes. Ben Whishaw plays Richard, who contacts his dead lover’s (Andrew Leung’s) mother (Pei-pei Cheng) at her nursing home, but his oh-so-English politeness ensures the film is fundamentally undramatic. This is intentional, but the film never quite finds the poetry it strives for. Perhaps Khaou needed to risk curdling his brew by applying a hotter flame.