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How ‘The Farewell’ Makes Exercise Fun and Bittersweet | Anatomy of a Scene



Ha! Ha!

This sound echoing through a neighborhood in the Chinese city of Changchun isn’t that of laughter, but of a disciplined workout routine. It’s coming from Billi (Nora Lum, a.k.a. Awkwafina) and her grandmother, or Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen).

In “The Farewell,” Billi has returned to the city to visit her ailing Nai Nai, who has been diagnosed with cancer. But the grandmother hasn’t been told this diagnosis and thinks that Billi, along with the rest of her family, is visiting for a wedding.

The shooting style often aims to mirror that narrative through unbroken, stationary shots. Its writer and director, Lulu Wang, explained how in an interview.

“We use the static frame a lot throughout the film as a way to represent the performative nature of what’s going on,” she said, “that the family is performing joy, that they’re performing this wedding for Nai Nai’s sake and there’s a theatricality to it.”

Here, Wang discusses how she worked with her actors and gave them the freedom to move around the frame and even out of it to build a naturalistic sequence that solidifies the chemistry between them.

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