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Olivier Meys • Director

"We never talk about how difficult the immigration experience is"


- We met up with Belgian director Olivier Meys on the occasion of the release of Bitter Flowers in Belgium

Olivier Meys • Director
(© Cinergie)

After making several short films and documentaries, Olivier Meys embarks on a feature film journey with Bitter Flowers [+see also:
film review
interview: Olivier Meys
film profile
, an intimate and moving portrait of the bitter exile of a young Chinese woman who is prepared to sacrifice her present situation to secure the future of her young family. 

Cineuropa: What is Bitter Flowers about?
Olivier Meys: Bitter Flowers is the story of a young woman from northern China who feels the world around her changing and wants to take the path to modernity in order to safeguard her family’s future. She hears about neighbours who are nannies for rich Chinese families in Paris and would like to earn a small nest egg so that she can run her own business. But the reality is very different once she arrives. She could go home, but instead she decides to deal with the situation so that she can hold on to her dream.

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What interested you in this topic?
I’ve done a lot of reports in China since the year 2000, the country has changed fundamentally, be it the cities or the countryside, and I feel like I have documented these changes in my films. These upheavals have had a strong impact on Chinese families, and I wanted to deal with this issue from the inside.

Two things are surprising: the notion of prostitution and the solidarity of these women.
These women are not driven by misery or violence, but because they feel like their world is changing very quickly. There are opportunities available, but not for everyone. While the rich get richer, others are left at the bottom of the ladder... They feel like the door isn’t going to stay open for long. There’s a feeling of urgency. They throw themselves in head first when they hear about this opportunity. The common story of immigration is that the reality on the ground is often terrifying. We never talk about the difficulty of the experience, we fabricate it completely, especially if it touches upon a sexual taboo such as prostitution. These women agree to prostitute themselves so that can realise their dreams. There are real antagonisms and a real hostility between the Chinese who are settled in Paris and the women who arrive. Solidarity between them is the only way they to cope.

Would you also call it a love story?
I wanted a heroine who has a stable family situation, and who, to ensure a better future for her family, agrees to put her present life on hold, and to let herself and her relationship endure an untenable situation. How do people who love each other react in these sorts of situations? How do you nurture that love in secret, and rediscover it?

Was it an easy film to produce?
No, it's a pretty simple story, but not a particularly commercial one and it’s in Chinese! So finding money in Europe for that, plus for a debut film, was not easy. But thanks to the stubbornness of my Belgian and French producers, we found solutions, especially in Flanders and Switzerland, and we also found Chinese investors, without whom it would have been very difficult to complete the project. 

What other projects are on the cards?
I am writing a new fiction film, but I would like it to be broadcast in China without any restrictions. So you have to take into account potential censorship and the characteristics of the market, but I think the project should be able to achieve that...

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(Translated from French)

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