Movie  Voyage en Chine (Journey Through China), a film by Zoltan Mayer
22/06/201700:00 Judith Prescott

In Voyage en Chine, Zoltan Mayer has chosen the moving story of a mother coming to terms with the death of her estranged son for his debut feature. Her mourning takes her far from the mundane life in the French suburbs to Sichuan, a region in central China.  

With a magnificent Yolande Moreau in the central role, Mayer slowly lays bare the hidden emotions of this middle-aged woman. This was a portrait of a woman who struggles to cope with the loss of her child, as well as the guilt of abandoning her adult son. 

At first, Liliane’s grief is as heavy as the oversized red coat she wears as we see her shuffling on and off trains and buses, in her own journey of self-discovery. Gradually, the immense sadness begins to lessen and she emerges from the silence to reconnect with her son through the people who loved and respected him. Mayer directs with a subtelty and perception which elevates this simple story onto a majestic level.
Liliane and her husband Richard (Andre Wilms) no longer have much of a marriage; they spend silent evenings eating dinner in front of the TV. A late night telephone call reveals their son Christophe has been killed in Sichuan and the body has to be repatriated to France. Although broken by the news of Christophe’s death, Liliane tries to organise the paperwork to bring her son home. The bureaucracy, however, proves to be overwhelming. Without telling her husband, she sets off to China to bring the body back herself. It’s a daunting task for Liliane, who is only able to communicate in elementary English. Eventually she finds herself in the small village where Christophe called his home. Through her encounters with the other villagers, including the beautiful Danjie (Qu Jing Jing), who was Christophe’s girlfriend, she is able to reconstruct a picture of the man which her son had become.

Mayer's background as a photographer and documentary maker are in evidence with the very personal angle of Liliane’s voyage. There’s a raw quality to the film which avoids cliché and sets about deftly drawing together the various stands of Liliane’s journey. 
The grieving mother, holding her son's ashes in an urn.

Mayer wisely avoids using a voice over to express Liliane’s innermost thoughts, instead there are the touching letters to her son which she writes while travelling which reveal the depths of her loss.  She is filled with regret but there is not a shred of self pity.  It’s as if she accepts the physical discomfort she experiences on the journey as part of the punishment for her failings as a mother. None of this would be apparent without an actor as talented as Moreau in the lead role. 

She is big and stands out physically against the local actors. It’s difficult to imagine a greater contrast than that between Liliane with her shock of unruly grey haïr and rolling gait and the small-boned, dark haired Sichuan villagers. The sparse, stilted dialogue and awkward silences add to the intensity of her experience. Mayer took his time in letting the story gently unfold. Characters are introduced one at a time, and his skill is in fitting them ltogether to form a coherent whole.

Voyage en Chine is as far from a travelogue as it is possible, with the images Mayer has created lingering in mind long after the final credits have rolled.
The article was originally published in
French Cinema Review, a blog curated and written by Judith Prescott.

I have worked as a journalist for 24 years both in London, England and now in Paris, France. I was a broadcast journalist for the English service of Radio France Internationale in Paris for 17 years before leaving to set up a blog for French cinema fans everywhere. I also worked as a reviewer of French films for The Hollywood Reporter and was a jury member for the Prix Michel d'Ornano at the Festival of American Films at Deauville. I am passionate about French films, both old and new, and want to share this passion with filmgoers around the globe.

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