Every season has “that” movie which, in a time of disenchantment and depression, make you leave the cinema with a sense of tearful happiness and relief. Last year was “Green Book”, ten years ago “Le Concert” and this year this special award goes to this incredible true story (or actual lie, as said in the opening titles) written and directed by Lulu Wang.
A Chinese family, whose new generations left the country to migrate to Japan and US, returns home to celebrate the wedding of a nephew. But the real reason of this extraordinary event is to spend some time with the old grandmother Nai Nai, who has a terminal cancer and to whom the family didn’t reveal the truth to spare her from fear and depression. Nai Nai has a special relationship with her grand-daughter Billi, living in New York, and it is through her disenchanted eyes, while she meditates even a return to her homeland, that the story develops.
Lulu Wang had to struggle a lot to find the finances for this personal project of her. China deemed it “too American” while US producers thought that the scarcity of recognizable actors would have caused a blow at the national box office. But she resisted and the result at the moment is more than $17 million grossed only in America (beating “Avengers: Endgame” for the best per-theatre average), the award from the audience of Sundance Festival and the promise of more Awards buzz in the weeks to come. All deserved, as “The Farewell” perfectly balances comedy and drama, reflecting on families separated by the need of economic migration and the feeling to reconnect with your own origins even in a country which is changing (the many building sites shown as Billi is driven from the airport to the city). Rising star Awkwafina is brilliant as Billi, a thirty-something woman on the verge of surrender, and Chinese actress Shuzhen Zhao is extraordinary as Nai Nai, a mix of naivete and determination which will melt your heart.