Parlez-vous chinois? Despite the fact that the Oscars are arbitrary decisions made by Hollywood insiders, China is still eager to claim a golden statue for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film. After decades of submissions lacking much in the way of serious consideration, China is attempting a new strategy in its quest for Oscar glory. And that strategy speaks French.
China’s submission this year, The Nightingale has a French director, French producers, a French screenwriter and French editors. Though the movie is set in China and the actors speak Chinese, it is still hard to argue that it is a truly Chinese production. France, it is worth pointing out, has numerous Oscar wins under its belt. So China’s new Oscar strategy appears to be “if you can’t beat them, join them”.
The Nightingale has an incredibly similar plotline to that of a previous film by the French director. That film, The Butterfly (Le papillon), tells the story of an old man, accompanied by a neighbor’s daughter, who travels to the French countryside to track down a rare species of butterfly because of a promise he made to his deceased son. The Nightingale (Le promeneur d’oiseau, 夜莺) tells the story of an old man who travels to the Chinese countryside with his granddaughter to release a songbird based on a promise he made to his deceased wife (ring any bells?). Both films highlight important life lessons and stunning views of their respective countrysides. Both are beautiful, heartwarming films that have melted the hearts of people around the world. And neither delves into any controversial subjects.
Indeed, choosing The Nightingale might be more of a political question than a question of stylish French aesthetics. Several other important films released by prominent Chinese directors this year dealt with far more politically sensitive topics. The Chinese State Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television, which chooses Chinese films for Oscar submission, is likely to have wanted to stick with a film that highlights more positive aspects of China for the international stage.
Even if the film is a copycat and not 100 percent Chinese, there is no doubt that it is stunning to look at. However, it remains to be seen if The Nightingale will become a serious Oscar contender. Check out the trailer below to judge for yourself.