Riz Cantonais

Mia Ma | FR 2015 | 50 min

If only I could speak Cantonese. And you, Apoi, if only you spoke French.” The first sentence of Mia Ma’s autobiographically inspired documentary sums up the basic problem of the granddaughter, daughter of a French mother and a Chinese father who migrated to France: how to get closer to her grandmother when none of them speaks the other’s language and when even her own father, fluent in both, only interprets extremely half-heartedly?

It is conversations never held that stand between the two women, each approaching the other in her own way: while the grandmother expresses her affection to Mia through the food she offers, the latter approaches the other by humorously re-sketching her grandmother’s story and that of her father in her documentary, learning Mandarin from Chinese migrants to whom she gives French lessons – a step towards the almost unattainable, because so complex, Cantonese. Riz Cantonais shows: Belonging takes place on several levels, or rather senses.

Director’s statement

I don’t speak any Cantonese because my father never spoke Cantonese to me and because I’m bad at languages. My grandmother doesn’t speak any French because she never felt like learning it. To translate between her and me, there is my father, but he is reluctant to do so. So I meet other Chinese immigrants, with their different languages and life experience. Through these roundabout means, the loss of the original language comes to make sense.” (Mia Ma)

Mia Ma

*1978. Master in philosophy, then (photo) journalism. Riz Cantonais (2015) is her first short film and was awarded, among others, the Intangible Heritage Award (Jean Rouch Festival). In 2021, her second documentary film Fréquence Julie was released.