This French Chinese co-production is a beautiful and moving film, with a lot of heart and charm, and it has broad appeal.
When her workaholic parents have to go on trips, young Ren Xing (Xin Yi Yang) is reluctantly left in the care of her estranged grandfather Zhu Zhigen (veteran Chinese actor Li Baotian, from Shanghai Triad), a widower who lives in a small apartment in Beijing. Xing’s father Chong (Hao Qin) is dubious of the arrangement, as his father temporarily lost Xing in a crowded marketplace four years earlier, and he is worried that something may happen. Zhu desires to return to his small hometown in the country for sentimental purposes, and takes Xing along. Xing is a spoiled, precocious, petulant and selfish little brat who is resentful of having to leave behind the creature comforts of her luxurious apartment in Beijing for the rustic countryside. Grandfather carries with him his beloved nightingale in a cage, hence the title. But as the pair become lost overnight in a dense forest they begin to bond.
Philippe Muyl directs with sensitivity and compassion, and the film shares a few thematic similarities with his 2002 drama The Butterfly. In fact, it transplants the themes and central characters from the bucolic French countryside to rural China very effectively.
The Nightingale is a pleasant road movie that offers up a subtle criticism of the consumerism of contemporary China and the unintended consequences of its one-child policy, which has produced a generation of spoiled, self-absorbed kids. While at the same time the film subtly explores some universal themes that will resonate strongly with audiences. An air of melancholy permeates the material too.
The film is driven by a superb, wonderfully nuanced performance by veteran Baotian, who makes for a sympathetic character. Newcomer Yang is also very good. The pair develop a palpable rapport and their relationship drives this simple but sweet-natured movie.
The Nightingale is gorgeous to look at thanks to the superb widescreen lensing of Sun Ming, who captures some breathtaking locations and the verdant scenery of rural China.
Director: Phillipe Muyl
Cast: Li Xiao Ran, Yang Xin Yi, Qin Hao, Li Bao Tian
Release Date: 18 June 2015
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television