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Film Of The Week Family matters

That’s the poignant theme of an excellent comedy drama as relatives attempt to hide the truth of her impending demise from a feisty matriarch, says MARIA DUARTE

The Farewell (PG)
Directed by Lulu Wang

LULU WANG’S The Farewell is a poignant film about the complexities of family dynamics, the clash of cultures and whether it is ever OK to withhold the truth from loved ones.

It centres on the Chinese-born but US-raised Billi (Awkwafina), who reluctantly returns to Changchun to see her grandmother and family matriarch Nai-Nai (Shuzhen Zhao).

She has been given just weeks to live but the rest of the family has agreed not to tell her and they all return home under the guise of a cousin’s impromptu wedding. It has been decades since they have all been together but Nai-Nai is none the wiser.

Billi feels like a complete fish out of water in China and due to her US upbringing believes it is unethical not to tell her grandmother the truth.

She spends most of the time in a state of shock and powerlessness as she struggles to keep this epic lie under wraps and maintain a semblance of normality around her beloved relative.

Matters are compounded by her conflict as she battles the major chasms between US and Chinese cultures and tries to manoeuvre between the two worlds and the dichotomy between her family ties and her personal life as an aspiring New York artist.

It is a fascinating and insightful portrait by writer-director Wang who based the film on a similar personal experience and provides a unique understanding into the ramifications of telling such an uncomfortable untruth.

The film’s driven by an extraordinary nuanced performance from underground rap sensation Awkwafina of Crazy Rich Asians, who’s a true revelation.

Spending most of the time speaking in Mandarin, she shows she has the dramatic range to pull off such a complex character.

Zhao also gives a powerful turn as the feisty but loving matriarch, overjoyed to be surrounded by her loved ones once again.

The family dinners and the wedding itself are hilarious yet heartbreaking as Nai-Nai is joyously and blissfully unaware, while her family can’t convincingly hide how distraught they feel as they say their farewells.

Yet their decision to hide the truth from Nai-Nai comes from a place of love and wanting to protect her.

The film’s humour emerges organically from the situation Billi finds herself in and it captures beautifully the petty jealousies, recriminations and animosities between the different family members.

This exquisitely crafted, yet also wonderfully funny and uplifting film will make you reassess the importance of family and keeping in touch.

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