The Farewell     
Directed by Lulu Wang. Screenplay by Lulu Wang. Starring Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao Shuzhen, Lu Hong, Jiang Yongbo. Length 98 minutes. Languages: English and Mandarin with subtitles. Rotten Tomatoes 99%

This is a touching tale of a Chinese family gathered to say goodbye to a grandmother who does not know she is going to die of lung cancer in a few months. Nobody wants to give her the news that she is seriously ill, but they also don’t want her to leave without a farewell.

So they organize a get-together based on an elaborate charade that allows them to spend a few days together before she passes away.

Director Lulu Wang was born in Beijing, but from the age of six she has lived in the United States. In 2014 she directed her first film, Posthumous, a romantic comedy. It was a disappointment which didn’t work despite a good cast.

However, five years later, The Farewell, her second film as director and screenwriter, is a pleasant surprise which has wowed the critics.

You can detect its autobiographical character. The film’s tag line is “Based on an actual lie.” Apparently the inspiration for the script was Wang’s own grandmother. Wang has an intimate knowledge of her characters and she understands the pain of living between two very different cultures.

Awkafina (Nora Lum), an American actress and rapper of Chinese descent who starred in Ocean’s 8 and Crazy Rich Asians, gives a stand-out performance. She is very credible as granddaughter Billi who returns to China to see Nai Nai, her grandmother, for the last time.

The Farewell also showcases Shuzhen Zhao, a first-time actress. Her portrayal of a lovable grandmother who makes each of her family members better with her sense of humour and her ability to patch up old quarrels is marvellous.

This film is moving, entertaining, funny – and thoughtful. It makes you reflect on the importance of nurturing family bonds and opens up a dialogue about Eastern collectivism and Western individualism. Her children and grandchildren lie to Nai Nai about the seriousness of her illness so as not to distress her and to take the burden of the pain upon themselves. To Americans like Billi, this is wrong; to her Chinese relatives, it’s natural.

Scenes like the final banquet are poignant because of their naturalness and elegance. The second act lacks energy, but the concluding scenes are very touching. The film ends with two very appropriate songs: “Senza di te”, by Fredo Viola, and “Come Healing,” by Elayna Boynton.  

Claudio Sánchez reviews films for Aceprensa, where this was originally published.