Aspen Shortsfest: Short Film Palme d’Or-winning director Qiu Yang on ‘A Gentle Night’
“A Gentle Night” tracks a mother’s desperate search for her missing 13-year-old daughter in the hours after her disappearance.
The film, by director Qiu Yang, will screen Friday evening at Aspen Shortsfest. The quiet, tense 15-minute narrative won the Palme d’Or for shorts at Cannes Film Festival last year — the first Chinese film to take the prestigious prize. The win launched Qiu, 29, to international prominence and likely minted him as a noteworthy feature director.
“I think the most crucial opportunity is that more people would want to believe in my future projects,” Qiu said in an email interview of the Cannes win. “But this also means more expectation and pressure for myself.”
Qiu wrote the film based on recent real events in his hometown, Changzhou, where several children went missing for months and then returned without explanation.
“This event and especially its unknown and mysterious element stayed with me,” Qiu said. “I kept wondering what happened. So when I was going to make a new short film, I thought maybe I could develop something from it.”
He imagined a striken mother on a fruitless mission to find her daughter over the course of a single night.
Technically flawless and propelled by a largely silent performance by Shuxian Li, “A Gentle Night” showcases the visual precision the filmmaker developed while training as a still photographer, capturing an eerie atmospheric quality and the terror of the unknown.
Among its most memorable stylistic touches is a long, Hitchcockian shot of a three-story building that appears destined to be taught in film schools. The mother pleads for help from her daughter’s teacher on the second story, as security guards mill about on the ground floor and residents steadily emerge from their apartments onto a balcony on the third. Qiu was inspired by this familiar piece of Chinese architecture, which he called “a mini-universe of different people,” and filmed it with the help of a rising scissors platform during his weeklong shoot in Changzhou in February of last year.
The film patiently doles out information and ratchets up its intensity through its short running time, building to a terrifying climactic moment backed by the sound of rattling firecrackers and sirens, and an unconventional conclusion.
Qiu is hoping to make another short this year, as he works on the script for his first feature film.
“I want to tell stories that interest me and matter to me personally,” he said, “and, hopefully would also matter to someone else.”
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