Movie Short Review: ‘A Gentle Night ( Xiao cheng er yeu)’

Greetings again from the darkness. Writer/Director Yang Qui’s exquisite short film has performed very well at festivals, and even became the first Chinese production to win the short film Palm d’Or at Cannes.

The film opens on a stoic police officer filling out a report by asking two parents questions about their missing 13 year old daughter who never came home after school. While the father accepts the direction to “come back tomorrow”, the mother is carrying some guilt along with the expected desperation and concern over her missing daughter. Remarkably, this is the screen debut of Li Shuxian. Her performance as the mother is at the level of a screen veteran, and we actually feel her pain and anguish.

Frustration with “the system” seems to know no boundaries by country or culture. The indifference and unwillingness to get involved spreads across the police, a teacher, other citizens, and a doctor – each who compounds the mother’s feeling of isolation. The expert camera work and lighting provide an ominous tone, as we are reminded that although society as a whole may be cold and inattentive, individuals are very much involved and balancing emotions in an effort to get by. So, as this is one mother’s worst nightmare, the excruciating and escalating intensity is a reminder that most of us have been more fortunate … and maybe indifferent in our own way.

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