In an exclusive interview with The Pavlovic Today, short film director Qiu Yang, who won the Palme d’Or for best short film at the 70th Cannes Film Festival says that “life does not always have an ending”.
“Do not go gentle into that good night,” the poet Dylan Thomas wrote. His portrayal of life’s work as a thrashing out “against the dying of the light” has a white-knuckled desperation to it, both condemning and commemorating out the purpose on this earth.
The same feeling can be felt in Qiu Yang’s new short film A Gentle Night/ Xiao Cheng Er Yue which won the Palme D’Or for Cannes’ short competition this year and has recently debuted at New York Film Fest.
Qiu Yang’s film begins with an investigation by the parents of a missing child in China. Set against the backdrop of New Year’s celebrations, the child’s mother (Shuxian Li), unable to accept the condolences of the apathetic police officers, embarks on her own into the evening, searching for traces or remnants of her little girl.
The film, at fifteen minutes long, is an elusive and impressionistic portrayal of all-too-common events. Watching it, I was reminded of Andrey Zvyagintsev’s new movie, Loveless, which also tackles the pure and unnerving fear of a missing child, the notion that they could truly be anywhere.
In addition to the Palme d’Or A Gentle Night received – the highest honor for its category – Qiu Yang was also awarded a screenwriting grant by the festival’s foundation, a mandate for his future work.
PT: Were you interested in a short for its own sake, or does the idea of turning this into a feature appeal to you?
I think the film as a short is quite complete as it is. Even my producer suggested to me to turn it into a feature film, but I think at the moment I wouldn’t really want to do it. Because if I’m turning it into a feature, it has to be something new, and it takes time for me to encounter that inspiration. So maybe in the future, but not at the moment.
PT: Tell me about the reception in Cannes, and the screenwriting accolade you won there.
I hope it was positive. The people I talked to told me they liked the film, but obviously, I didn’t talk to everyone. I was glad the screening was a full house, or almost. It was second to last day of the festival and short aren’t always the most important thing at Cannes.
The screenwriting grant was part of the Cinefoundation Residence I was part of at the same time. I was living in Paris as part of the residence writing my first feature script. They partnered up with CNC and hosted a public pitching session with all the participating directors and they were generous enough to offer us cash awards.
Qiu Yang: I think creatively, I might have more influence from world cinema aesthetics and then I’d try to combine those into my Asian storytelling roots.
PT: This film has a very close connection to China, both in its narrative and its production, but I believe you went to school in Australia. Do you think that had an effect on the film or your filmmaking in general?
I do think so.
My whole adult education was in Australia, 5 years film school. All my filmmaking knowledge was western trained. I think it affects me in terms of my methodology of filmmaking. Like I always write and develop my script in English first, then when I need to work on the dialogue with the actors, I then translate it into Chinese. A lot of practical things like this. And because the education gave me my language ability, I was able to consume a bit [sic] information and knowledge in English. So, I think creatively, I might have more influence from world cinema aesthetics and then I’d try to combine those into my Asian storytelling roots.
PT: Given the openness of the ending, the audience has the same feeling of fear and worry that the mother feels. Did you want to convey any feeling of hope among that?
Not knowing is hope. It depends on how you take it. I wanted to end the film that way so the audiences are left the same emotion stage as the mother. Also, I think this is a lot closer to the reality of our life. A lot of things don’t have an ending. A lot of things don’t get resolved. We always find ourselves stuck in the middle of solving something, but never solve it. Life doesn’t always have an ending.
PT: Is there any relationship to the narrative of A Gentle Night and current political events in China?
Not really. I don’t avoid politics, but also don’t involve straightforward politics in my film. I’m more interested in using daily life of the normal Chinese people, their daily struggle and daily interaction with other people to deconstruct the complexity of the current modern Chinese society. To me, the individual Chinese people are more interesting, after all, without the normal Chinese people, there will be no politics.