Film Festival Review: The Nightingale


Movie Musings - Amber Olson3Personally, watching movies that are not big-budget cinematic experiences has never appealed to me. But when I heard about the Milwaukee Film Festival, I became intrigued.

The festival, which ended Thursday, is a great way to experience new and alternative movies that will never play at the Paradise Theater. Each year the Milwaukee Film Festival has hundreds of different movies showing at different times, even late into the night (or morning, if you will).

One of the featured movies at this year’s festival was The Nightingale. Since I was not able to make it to a showing myself, The Current contacted the festival about getting access to an online screener for journalists, and the festival provided me with the needed password.

So I got to lounge in my bed, drowned in fluffy blankets, and watch a festival movie. Perfect.

The Nightingale is one of those films where at first it does not look very interesting, but then an hour later you ask yourself where the time went. It is filmed in various places in China, ranging from busy Beijing to the tiniest village in the middle of nowhere. I actually loved that it was in China because of the vast terrain and the beauty of it all. Also, I enjoyed that the director had the actors speak in Chinese. Now before you go assuming that I know how to speak Chinese, I don’t; there were English subtitles thankfully provided. I still stumble upon some English words, so I don’t think I can take up being fluent in an even more complicated language, thank you very much.

The scenery in this film is amazing. There are lush visuals of the outdoors and forests and caves, but there’s also the ancient emotion you feel when you see the actors mff_logo1step into the villages. In my eyes, the images of the old villages could only be described as humble and wise in the way they were portrayed and filmed.

There might be arguments about what the theme is exactly for this movie, and I’m sure there is more than one. But the theme that I believe the director and writer of this film were focusing on is the importance of recognizing what really matters in life, like family and forgiveness.

The first scene of The Nightingale shows an old man, Zhigen, in his small kitchen eating breakfast. We then hear a bird, specifically a nightingale, start to sing its song after Zhigen takes the cover off the cage. A few scenes later, we find ourselves being taken to an extravagant birthday party for Renxing, Zhigen’s granddaughter. Renxing has not seen her grandfather for over four years, due to an ongoing argument between Zhigen and his son, Renxing’s father.

Now, Renxing’s parents both have terribly busy jobs (sound familiar?), so they are both gone on the same few days in this movie, and so is their nanny who would normally take care of Renxing. And it just so happens (coincidence? I think not) that Zhigen is planning to visit his wife’s grave in his hometown village during those exact same days. So, as reluctant as could be, Renxing trudges on with her grandfather and causes too much unnecessary stress and trouble for a man her grandfather’s age.

There are lush visuals of the outdoors and forests and caves, but there’s also the ancient emotion you feel when you see the actors step into the villages.

Renxing and her grandfather go on all sorts of adventures together, from sleeping in a cave to Renxing meeting her first water buffalo to letting the ancient nightingale go. During this time, however, Renxing looks at her iPad and iPhone gradually less each day. She begins to like spending time with her grandfather and less time playing Candy Crush.

I think that the slow process of Renxing’s acceptance that she cannot have everything she wants is a huge part in the movie. Renxing goes from being absolutely disrespectful to her grandfather and other elders, to making sure she pleases Zhigen any way she can, just to make him happy. I love how her character changes visually throughout the film, as well. Yang Xinyi, the young actress, did a good job of portraying what a bratty little girl who is used to getting whatever she wants would have been like.

When they reach a village close to Zhigen’s old home, they stay a few days. And in those days, Renxing changes. She makes friends, doesn’t even glance at her electronics once, and actually lies about knowing her mother’s phone number, just so they don’t have to leave yet. At one point, Renxing actually hides for multiple hours, just so she could stay with her new friends and grandfather for a while longer.

The morning after Zhigen and Renxing reach his old home, Renxing’s father arrives from Bejing to take her back home. In this short period of time that Zhigen’s son, Chongyi, stays, they have (spoilers!) a long and heartfelt talk. Thankfully, they make up, apologize, and forgive each other willingly. In the end, Zhigen and his family went from not talking to Skyping often (yes, on an iPad, so technology isn’t that bad all the time).

I believe that Philipe Muyl, the director of this film, was trying to point out the true meaning of life: to forgive and learn to love.

Movie Musings is a regular movie column written by Amber Olson, Current Staff.

(Images courtesy of Milwaukee Film.)

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