★★★★★ Directed by: Stanley Xu Written by: Stanley Xu Starring: Valerie Ong, Stanley Xu Short Film Review by: Chris Olson
A remarkably graceful yet poignant social drama, Stanley Xu’s short film Lullaby is one of those rare pieces that manages to combine subtle cinema with intelligent themes without resorting to sanctimonious grandstanding. Instead, the social commentary is presented with affection and strong characterisation.
Three generations of a Singaporean family reside within a household. Whilst the mother and father discuss going away on a vacation or giving instructions for their son to listen to his grandma, we never actually see them on camera (aside from a brief glimpse of the bottom half of the mother). The remainder of the short film comprises of intimate and heartwarming scenes between the boy and his grandma, who share beautiful moments of connection, as well as tense cautions from the grandmother about her son (i.e. the boy's father).
Stanley Xu delivers a tremendous amount of tender storytelling in this 9 minute movie, so much so that audiences will likely be begging to see a feature length from him (so far having only directed shorts). The story is intelligently delivered to the viewer without offering copious amounts of exposition or needless signposting. We are presented with suitably soft shots of the boy on the floor, or him and his grandma on the bed, to give a sense of warmth to their relationship. By not including any physical shots of the boy's parents, Lullaby makes a bold statement that reflects the story's strongest theme: neglect. Now, this is not so much a specific neglect by the parents (although they do seem fairly uninterested in their son or mother/mother-in-law). It is rather a societal neglect that fails to dedicate anywhere near enough time to its most vulnerable citizens. The youth and elderly, who often make up the shadow demographics in many cultures are brought into the light here and it's the parents who get out casted, literally from the frames.
There is a tragic sense of inevitable and impending uselessness on the grandmother's character in particular. A callback sequence involving her lying on the bed in the same way the boy had earlier in the short film was really moving. Disenfranchisement riddles Lullaby in a way that makes the story seem teeming with sorrow. How can a home where love is so obviously present still be a place of isolation and despair?
The performances are wonderful in particular the grandma who captures the balance between the joy of being with her grandson and the misery of being forgotten by her son marvelously.
Affecting and beautiful cinema that captures life’s bittersweetness whilst maintaining a wonderful aesthetic that builds a palpable sense of tragedy within the viewer that is not cynical or dissonant but instead wholesome and heartfelt.