Awards season is upon us. The gates for films and filmmakers are all open for the accolades to be bestowed on them. A Gentle Night should be in the running for many of these honors. The drama short has the three ingredients to tug at award-voters and audiences’ hearts: intrigued, great script writing and powerhouse acting.
In roughly about 15 minutes, director Qiu Yang finds a pulse in the gravitation of a mother’s determination to locate her daughter who goes missing after failing to come home after school. We first see the gravity of the situation as Cai (Li Shuxian) sits with despair and a sense of helplessness at a local police station as she and her husband look to get the law involved into finding their missing child.
But there is a certain mystery that abound between mother and father as Cai’s husband makes it clear to his wife that he is to do all the talking to officials. She is to be quiet. This strange dynamic carry on when the two leaves the police station and go into an intense dialogue around the missing girl.
Even weirder is when the couple stops somewhere and enters into a conversation with a blurred-out stranger, suggesting that perhaps something incredibly sinister is behind Cai’s daughter disappearance.
Despite this narrative, it appears that Cai knows why her daughter came up missing in the first place as she seems to quietly acknowledge the inevitable-a turn for the worse-has taken place. Yet, Cai is a young mother that is distraught at the fact that she may never see her 13-year-old daughter again.
There is nothing but empty pain that grips every fiber of Cai’s body. Shuxian, making her acting debut, captures the emotional roller-coaster of a parent (Cai) looking for their missing child with draining and heart-breaking perfection.
By the time this drama ends, the film successfully brings the reality of something no parent wants to think about. A Gentle Night, which screened at the 2017 AFI Fest Film Festival, has enough twists in it to play out from several different scenarios. There is a hint that physical abuse may have led Cai’s daughter to run away from home.
Cai then has the audacity to go to where her daughter’s teacher lives, which naturally raises the question whether the educator knows something. She asks him to help her by going down to talk to the police. Rightfully or wrongly, the teacher, rebukes Cai and tells her he doesn’t anything to do with his missing student.
Of course, this raises a red flag. But there is nothing Cai can do except be a mother. Sometimes that is more than enough. For Cai, that means taking ownership of things-good or bad. Cai refuses to go quietly in the night with her daughter vanishing. Going from feeling sorry for herself to warrior mom who shows determination and moxie in search of her missing daughter, Cai forces us to take a hard look at the scope of children coming up missing and the heartache impact it can have on parents.