The Farewell

The Farewell ★★★★½

The Farewell waves goodbye to clichés and welcomes humanistic endearment. Death. A significant part of life. For if one must live, they also must decease. The natural order of existence. But what if you acknowledged the inevitability of your demise? The apprehension that one night you will never wake up. Would knowing that your health deterioration, in this case stage four lung cancer, has granted you a finite amount of time change the way you spend your last months alive? In China, it is tradition for family members to withhold this information. To suffer with the emotional burden and make the remaining days as optimistic as possible. Naturally, the conflict of emotive responses becomes difficult to balance, with bursts of sorrow frequently overwhelming falsified happiness.

In this personal directorial feature, Wang's own "actual lie" includes a family preparing a pseudo-wedding in order for their "Nai Nai" (paternal grandmother in Mandarin) to see all family members one last time. The marriage of cultural particularities, exploring the moralities of upholding a lie that is deemed illegal in western nations, with relatable earnest themes to create a stunningly honest feature that revolves around family. Wang has essentially created a film about death. Yet achieved this by masterfully balancing sharp humorous dialogue with melancholic tones, alluding to a light dramatic comedy. For every laugh, there is a tear. Exhuming the tight embrace that family has to offer, rarely releasing from its grasp.

Whilst Wang courageously traversed familial love at a time of substantial loss, she also permitted an introspective look into an American immigrant rediscovering her traditional roots. A long forgotten heritage differing in ideology and principles, providing a formidable transition that offers sentimentality without resorting to melodrama. It all stems from Wang's ingenious screenplay, merging conscientious humour with dramatic power, charging at the audience's hearts at maximum velocity. A prime example of the sheer beautiful longevity that Wang tonally constructs, would be "Chinese people have a saying: When people get cancer, they die.". An adequate amount of subtle humour whilst tackling the heavy subject matter at hand. It's stunning. Absolutely incredibly stunning. And when Wang wants you to cry, she'll hold you down til you do.

This is mostly down to the nullified performances that purposefully felt restrained. Awkwafina, proving herself as a formidable dramatic actress, commanded the dialogue with her simplistic yet nuanced delivery. Her facial expressions, glistening eyes and dysphoric spirit resulted in her character resembling our western perspective. The clashing of cultures. The moral dilemma. The perfect performance. With Wang supplying elongated sequences with the members staring at the camera against the eloquent symphonic score provided by Weston, to harness the sorrow of the situation. However, it's Shuzhen's benign role as "Nai Nai" that truly squeezes at the heart. The fragility and innocence she conveys will force you to cry during every scene. Whether it be happiness or sadness, her matriarchal role proved powerful. That final wave goodbye? I'm still recovering.

Occasionally certain scenes felt too restrained for their own good, unable to emanate the raw emotional response Wang was striving for, which hindered the overall desolation by the smallest of degrees.

However, small criticism aside, Wang has produced an intimate portrayal of cultural contrast. A luminescent feature that is illuminated by an earnest screenplay that deftly highlights the talent of everyone involved both on and off screen, cementing this as one of the best films of the year without a doubt. I want to conclude by leaving a poignant line that summarises the film perfectly. "Life is not just about what you do. It's more about how you do it.".