The Nightingale (USA)

2015 USA

SUNDAY 12 February 10.00 am
TUESDAY 14 February 8.15 pm
RUNNING TIME 100 minutes


Zhigen (Bao Tian Li), an old Chinese farmer, has lived alone in Beijing for over 20 years after moving to the city to allow his son Chongyi (Hao Qin) to attend university. He decides to make the long journey from Beijing to Yangshuo to honour the promise he made to his wife to bring back the bird that has been his only companion in the city. His daughter-in-law Qianing (Xiao Ren Li), a beautiful rich career woman, asks him to take along his granddaughter Renxing (Xin Yi Yang), an only child brought up in the lap of luxury. While grandfather and granddaughter set out on their journey – one travelling back in time, the other discovering her roots – Chongyi and Qianing ponder the meaning of the life they have led in the sole pursuit of success and money.


Simple, but far from simplistic, The Nightingale sings its song with gentle power, telling a story that is both affecting and effective as cinema. The story threads gently bind together a small family’s relationships and chart the important changes with a light touch. The central relationship, around which the story is built, concerns Zhigen (Bao Tian Li) and his young granddaughter Renxing (Xin Yi Yang), separated not only by age but by the lifestyles with which they are familiar: he old school country, she spoilt brat on iPad. Fate puts them together in the road movie aspect of the film, while Renxing’s parents are struggling with their marriage.

The third relationship is Zhigen’s estrangement from his son Chongyi (Hao Qin), who is still angry with his father for losing the little girl in a bird market four years earlier. But the grandfather is not an irresponsible old fart – he had made a huge sacrifice to leave his village in order to provide the support for his son’s university education, which is now paying off with a successful career in architecture.

Daughter in law Qianing (Xiao Ren Li) is also successful as a businesswoman, and the little girl’s contrasting environments are well accented between the modern well-to-do couple and the rustic countryside. The latter provides some spectacular landscapes which add greatly to the film’s texture and sense of place, while Armand Amar’s sensitive, colour-rich score provides support to the visuals as well as the drama.

The film begins predictably enough and falters here and there, but the complex themes and well observed characters deepen and enrich the work as it progresses to a moving resolution and a haunting resonance.


Simple truths are contrasted by materialistic complexity in this charming tale in which the past, the present and the future intersect. French born writer and director Philippe Muyl (The Butterfly) has created a delightful film that explores the value of nurturing: a precocious child is shown a new direction; a couple whose relationship has withered re-evaluates; an old man searches for peace. It’s a character-driven story set in the lush, verdant landscape of a remote Chinese province, where the lake is a mirror, the grass is soft and the trees are twisted art installations whose branches anchor their roots into the earth.

As we glimpse the privileged life of little Renxing (Yang Xinyi) being chauffeured, enjoying private ballet classes, art and piano lessons and extravagant birthday parties, we understand she has everything superficial but little of substance. She spends more time playing with high-tech items than bonding with friends of her own age. There’s a hollow aspect to her life: her architect father Chongyi (Qin Hao) and executive mother Qianying (Li Xiaoran) pass each other in the night as they pursue their individual, successful careers.

On the other side of Beijing, Renxing’s grandfather Li Baotian (Ju Dou) lives a simple life finding joy in creating things and listening to the song of the little caged bird that we learn has special significance. The fact that Chongyi is estranged from his father, for reasons we later learn, impacts on the dynamics of the road trip in which Li and Rexging partake.

It is desperation that makes Qianying ask Li to take the little girl with him to his rural hometown, accompanied by the little caged bird that sings. Rexging’s initial brattish behaviour from the early scenes in the train as they leave Beijing slowly turns into curiosity as their shared adventures initiate a bond. As the road trip begins, they get lost, walk along a dirt track, shelter from the rain in a cave and warm themselves by a fire at night. We watch the transition with satisfaction. The scene in which Li tells his granddaughter about her grandmother and the reason why he is returning to his home is one of the most moving, likening her beauty to that of water, mist, wind and a dream.

The way all the story strands come together is as natural as the wind that rustles the leaves in the trees. The performances are excellent and there is plenty of heart in this affecting film whose song sings sweetly as it finds its notes on the forest stave.

Source: www.urbancinefile Accessed 11/6/15