Ren Xing (Yang Xinyi) is a young girl being brought up in contemporary Beijing. Her Mother (Li Xiaoran) and her Father (Qin Hao) are busy, thirty-somethings; business people who don’t give their daughter much attention. She seems content playing with her iPad and being looked after by the nanny. Mother and Father are always jetting away to places like Paris and Tokyo for business. Ren Xing’s grandfather is estranged from her father, his son. He and the son haven’t spoken in four years.
One day, both Mother and Father are away on business simultaneously and the nanny is due to be at her son’s wedding. Ren Xing therefore has to be looked after by her grandfather Zhu Zhi Gen. However, he is on his annual pilgrimage back to see his village, so Ren Xing must travel with the old man. This is a long way from Beijing and is further complicated by Ren Xing’s reluctance and stubbornness. She is a city-raised girl who has no experience of rural China. Zhu Zhi Gen also insists on bringing a caged nightingale that has lived for more than twenty years.
THE NIGHTINGALE is a French-Chinese co-production directed and written by Philippe Muyl. It was based, in part, on his 2002 movie THE BUTTERFLY. Muyl has created a gentle road movie that contrasts modern China with its rural traditions. Zhu Zhi Gen is a man of simple needs who is daunted by the sheer number of people who live in the big cities. His granddaughter Ren Xing represents the upcoming generation for whom rural life is a distant, historical memory.
Yang Xinyi as Ren Xing and Li Baotian as Grandfather have most of the screen time and it is a pleasure to be in their company. Their cross-generational friction and affection is universal, but the specifics of their journey across China will keep foreign audiences engaged. The story has the quality of a fable at times and a light satire at others. The cinematography is stunning as are the rural locations.
THE NIGHTINGALE is a lightweight drama with comedic moments for audiences looking for upbeat, life-affirming entertainment. Duration:100 minutes. (8/10)