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UPDATED: November 15, 2014 NO. 47 NOVEMBER 20, 2014
The Nightingale Hopes to Sing at the Oscars
The movie may not be about a magpie, but it still has its eye on something shiny
By Tang Yuankai

"At present, a huge problem is that China is still not understood by many people, and sometimes, it is even misunderstood," Muyl told Beijing Review.

"French people talk about China almost daily, but few will actually go to China. They have no idea what China looks like, and only believe in what they have seen about China on the TV, such as the pollution, and other negative aspects," he said.

Some people are still viewing China through telescope or colored lens. Muyl suggested that they should visit China for themselves or see The Nightingale. He said "China does not only have smog, but enchanting scenery, pretty people, beautiful hearts, traditional culture and modern vitality."

In early May, The Nightingale was screened in France, and was very well-received. Its box office outshone Hollywood blockbusters shown at the same period such as Sabotage—starring Arnold Schwarzenegger—and several other French films.

"I told a very original Chinese story. All actors and the entire story are Chinese, yet I use a narrative style easily accepted by Westerners, which will boost the film's international impact, and make it easier for Western audience to understand," said Muyl.

Understanding China

Muyl has visited the country repeatedly.

He came to China in 2000 to attend a film exhibition. "I stayed for too short a period to understand China well. China is an interesting and diverse country, and it takes time to get deeper into it," he said.

To gain a better understanding, Muyl moved to China before The Nightingale was filmed. He spent 18 months learning Chinese, and wrote his diary using Chinese pinyin.

Staying in China for a while, he had mixed findings. He saw the breakneck speed of life in China as in elsewhere in the world. As the pace of social development and people's lives accelerates, people are under mounting pressure, which has put many families out of balance.

"Many people are so busy that they 'move' their homes on automobiles or airplanes, family members become estranged and the 'families' exist only in names," he said.

In The Nightingale, the old man played by Li would want to honor his promise to his late wife by bringing his then 18-year-old pet nightingale back to their home town. But he has to bring his 8-year-old granddaughter with him as his workaholic son and daughter-in-law are on a business trip together.

The journey of two travelers from different generations, and with different backgrounds and living habits, was destined to be rough because of difficulty in communication. The film shows that nonetheless, it is not very difficult to eliminate the walls separating people's hearts. Care between family members can easily clear misunderstandings and defuse conflicts. At the end of the film, the once pampered child is totally transformed and the whole family has undergone a profound change thanks to the journey.

The film focuses on family life in these modern times. In recent years, China has been developing very fast. Muyl said that his film has probed questions such as "How has family, the basic unit of society, adapted to such rapid change? How have the relations between family members changed?"

"The rapid changes of modern society have caused an imbalance in people's hearts, so we need to return to our families and hometowns, to find our lost roots and traditions," said Muyl.

To Muyl, the most serious family problem is a lack of family-based education, which is reflected in the shortcomings of the little heroine of The Nightingale.

Muyl largely endorsed the traditional Chinese concept that holds that a person's moral sense, his or her love and care for others is gradually fostered in family, and parents should teach children to be responsible, filial and grateful.

"Obviously, if lessons from the family are too few, it is very difficult for a child to have a good character," he said.

He felt that Chinese children have almost everything they want materially, but they are caged like birds.

"What they need the most is not books or skills, but to get out of bird cage, and be close to nature and animals," Muyl said.

In the film, audience can see that the little girl plays with her iPad all the time during the journey. While Muyl was in China, he found that young Chinese adults and children like to keep their eyes on small screens rather than on the face of their family members and friends.

"For a family to be harmonious, family members should often communicate with each other, but not only through phones," Muyl said.

Toward the end of their journey, the grandfather's beloved bird died of senility. To comfort him, the girl traded her iPad with a village boy for a similar bird, and gave it to the old man.

After returning to Beijing, the girl has changed completely. She has brought her parents into a different but more balanced life, and let the whole family cherish really valuable things.

Email us at: tangyuankai@bjreview.com

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