Movie review / ‘The Farewell (PG)

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“The Farewell” (PG) ****

THE promotional tag-line for this film is: “Based on an actual lie”. Few movies so honestly deliver their promotion material. 

This warm-hearted observation of a middle-class Chinese family has already garnered a healthy collection of awards from film festivals all over the English-speaking world.

Actress Awkwafina (born Nora Lum in New York of Korean/Chinese parents) plays Billi, whom we first meet getting two important messages. A prestigious university has rejected her application to enrol in a PhD program. And from China comes a message asking her please to come quickly because her beloved grandmother Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao, about whom I have been able to find nothing more than the name but she’s a delight to watch) has a serious medical issue from which she might die within a couple of weeks.

Bravo, writer/director Lulu Wang for setting and shooting the preponderance of her film in Changchun. We need to know more about the kind of Chinese life that never makes news. By and large, it’s not much different from ours. 

They write in characters we don’t recognise (in one brief moment a hospital employee admits that she cannot read or write) and the spoken language is not easy for Europeans to understand, but in my book, those achievements make Chinese people rather smart. 

Wang’s screenplay wisely presents the story in a nicely-crafted mixture of warm humour and family drama that’s easily recognisable. And in reflecting Chinese customs and faiths harking back millennia rather than merely centuries, it brings us fresh information to charm and reward us.

I’d love to be at a Chinese wedding banquet at which every guest gets a whole mud crab and trimmings for the main course. 

I admired a demonstration of ancestral devotion in a graveyard where the inhabitants lie literally cheek by jowl under identical headstones. I found satisfaction in its wise family discipline and its intense demonstrations of affection. 

Telling all those elements and more in an actual Chinese city suggests credibility. 

The “actual lie” of the promotion is that Nai Nai’s husband and her sister have laid down a rule – Nai Nai must enjoy her final days unaware of her medical condition. Even doctoring the report of a medical procedure from a hospital as modern as any in Canberra is fair game. 

Ends that justify means pose risks for their practitioners. Don’t be in a hurry to leave when the final credits start.

At Dendy and Palace Electric

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"The Farewell" (PG) ****
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Dougal Macdonald
“CityNews” film reviewer

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