How to say goodbye to someone without letting him know that you say goodbye? This is the riddle in the center of L & # 39; farewell, the new film (and Sundance sensation) of screenwriter-director Lulu Wang. This seemingly cruel absurdity is one that she has also been confronted with in real life. As she related for the first time in her history of 2016 for This American lifeA few years ago, her beloved grandmother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. When she went to China to see her one last time, her parents and extended family insisted that she did not mention the illness. The clan decided it was better not to tell the grandmother. In the film, a character warns that if cancer does not kill her, her fear will be. The lie is quickly metastasized. Another grandson, whose family had immigrated to Japan, was encouraged to organize a wedding in China so that relatives of the grandmother could be excused. From the outside, such a subterfuge resembles the worst kind of paternalism. But Wang invites the public to take notice of her family's decision from the inside. Billi (Awkwafina, who replaces her), discovers and rediscovers new ways of expressing love.
In family portrait, L & # 39; farewell is full of complex characters drawn with love and interpersonal dynamics delicately stratified. But it's just as powerful as a travelogue to visit his country of birth – a place that, in this case, is both very familiar and strangely foreign, where Billi can not help but go crazy wondering what life she could have led the parents had never left. If last year Crazy Rich Asians was an affirmation of the Asian-American identity distinct from Old World cultures, L & # 39; farewell focuses on the blues of Billi's diaspora, not feeling quite comfortable in Asia or America. Wang's direction is generally underestimated, but her film includes sublimely composed images that suggest sticky whims, oases of beauty and the banal reality of contemporary Chinese life. The subject is inevitably dark, but the photo is also funny and malicious. Wang pirouettes along a few tonal hairpins – in a scene, I fell into tears.
East Asians tend to be introduced and portray themselves as a stoic and unassuming people. But L & # 39; farewell is filled with visions to worry about, touch and care for each other, sometimes so as not to be superimposed on Western customs. Billi's Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen), or her grandmother, grabs the "little round ass" of her granddaughter at the family table.
Nai Nai also holds Billi's hands during the conversations and brings food to the young woman's mouth with her chopsticks. At the heart of the drama lies a fundamental disagreement about the best way to love a family member. (As one scene illustrates, probably not through the intermediary of paid mourners, who tear almost all their clothes on the graves in front of more subdued parents.)
L & # 39; farewell focuses on Billi's diaspora blues, not feeling quite comfortable in Asia or America.
Although all this affection can go against the type, L & # 39; farewell is also confronted with well-observed cultural specificities, many of which speak of Billi's dislocation feeling, like being scolded by his uncle (Jiang Yongbo) for not interfering in the excessive consumption of alcohol from his father (Tzi Ma) or to have a doctor who wants to practice his English skills on her while she was in full consultation with her grandmother. These specificities gradually accumulate in a totality. At the end of the film, Billi may still not agree with the decision to let Nai Nai know about his condition, but realizes that this decision is consistent with a worldview that is looking on the issues of health and suffering and, in a different way but internally logical and coherent. Sometimes love is very much like betrayal, but only if you can not see the big picture.
Billi's journey is moving but largely silent. That's why I spent a lot of time L & # 39; farewell wondering how his cousin (Chen Han) and his extremely accommodating three-month-old girlfriend (Aoi Mizuhara) felt about their wedding banquet slapped. (I would look forward to a reinterpretation of the plot from their point of view.) But this little underdevelopment highlights the minutia with which the other characters are shaded. Billi's thorny mother (Diana Lin) shrieks at her daughter until she turns them sharply on the other members of the family in defense of her daughter. (Second-generation immigrants who have returned to their ethnic homelands with their parents may have also witnessed the game of changing allegiances, family and national, many conversations become.) Nai Nai's sons are submerged by the remorse that when leaving China, they deprived their mother of her last decades with her children and grandchildren. Yet neither one nor the other seems to be able to imagine staying in his home country. With three languages in between, the clan members are sometimes overwhelmed by clumsiness and stuck with frustration to exchange polite nods and jokes.
But the most wonderful character of the film is Nai Nai, who has served in the army, received a bullet in war, loves Billi incessantly and … is not always the most pleasant person. She makes derogatory and discriminatory assumptions about the future Japanese wife, to whom she does not speak and does not care to get to know her, and at most she will say of her living boyfriend, whom she calls Mr. Li. Is that he is "a living body in the house". (Worse is knowing that he is listening to his voice.) She can be vain, haughty, and shortsighted. In the end, she becomes a person whose death will merit mourning, not because she is good, but because she is human. L & # 39; farewell makes it hard to say goodbye.