Review: Heidi en Chine
- After The Soul of the Tiger, François Yang returns to documentary with an intimate portrait of a family blown apart by History
Heidi en Chine [+see also:
film profile], the new documentary from Swiss filmmaker François Yang, was screened this year in the Official Competition at the Namur International French-Language Film Festival.
Yang made his name a few years ago through his documentary work, with films such as Mariage en Afrique or Des bleus dans la police. For a long time, he stayed away from his chinese origins, not looking to explore this familial past. With his first work of fiction, The Soul of the Tiger [+see also:
film profile], he began exploring these origins, and he continues that work now with Heidi en Chine, an intimate portrait of his own mother’s return to her origins.
"In Switzerland I was a foreigner, in France I was a foreigner, in China I was a foreigner.” This is the story of Heidi, born in Paris in 1939, who became a refugee in Switzerland when the war began, where she found herself alone after the sudden death of her mother at the end of the conflict and her father’s departure for China. He handed her to the nuns from the Evêque de Fribourg where, while waiting for her father’s return (he promised not to be gone more than two years), she ran to the mailbox every morning, waiting for his letters. But those soon became more rare, and her father never returned. No doubt because of the events in China, but mostly, Heidi believes, because he got himself a new family over there.
Today, Heidi is 80 years old, and she has agreed to let her son follow her to film her great return to China, a country she only saw once, in 1975. A country where her family still lives: her elder brother, Tao, whom she has never seen, and the two children from her father’s second marriage. But the China that Heidi finds is far from the one she imagined.
The film’s concept is extremely simple on paper, and almost belongs to its own documentary genre, that of the quest for one’s origins and the return to one’s roots. While each individual story carries its own pains, chances and flashes, that of Heidi and her brothers leaves a mark because it is inscribed into history at large, and spans two continents. A child of the Second World War, Heidi will discover that her elder brother Tao, himself “abandoned” in a different way by their father, has followed the political destiny of his country, firmly pushing his children into the ethos of modern China, while his younger brother Yuan carried in his flesh the persecution suffered by his father and mother during the Chinese Cultural Revolution.
With Heidi en Chine, François Yang paints the portrait of a resilient elderly woman who discovers that the alternative life she had imagined does not correspond in any way with the reality in which she would have liked to inscribe it. She also learns that her father’s silences hid pains and tragic destinies afflicted by History and the history of his country, which is foreign to her — the film indeed regularly illustrates the linguistic misunderstandings which occur during the reunions between Heidi and her brothers and sisters — but whose presence she feels within herself.
(Translated from French)
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