Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will be the most talked-about movie this year to recreate and playfully alter sequences from the classic films of days past. But No. 7 Cherry Lane, director Yonfan’s first animated feature, does it best.
Cherry Lane, a dreamy love triangle set in 1967, is made up as much of nostalgia and fantasy as it is of romance. Ziming is the undergraduate English tutor with bottomless charm; Meiling is the young student with boundless optimism; Mrs. Yu, Meiling’s mother, is the one-time revolutionary who now works in luxury goods, but whose passion for art retains a radical zeal. The languorous romantic drama is never more alive than in its scenes of cinephilic seduction, as young tutor Ziming takes Mrs. Yu to a series of Simone Signoret films at the local theatre. A not-so-strange coincidence—each movie Ziming chooses for Mrs. Yu has Signoret’s character falling for a younger man. But in a twist on the trope of characters whose passion is expressed and mediated by pop culture, neither Ziming nor Mrs. Yu seems entirely certain what each film is saying. What they know, at least in the moment, is how a film feels. In fact, Mrs. Yu, in one of Cherry Lane’s most provocative sequences, reveals that literature is the medium that’s most capable as a vehicle for her dreams and desires.
The recreations of Signoret films, which are as cheekily inexact as Cherry Lane’s entire sense of reality, are strangely thrilling to see. Tarantino swapped McQueen for DiCaprio, an actor for an actor, reality for an alternate reality. Yonfan swaps actors for animation, flesh for fantasy. In Cherry Lane, the characters and the films they watch are of the same medium, the product of the same animator. The fantasy of the film-within-a-film is no less or more real than the fantasy of the film itself. It’s an unusual experience that’s almost worth the price of admission by itself.
This is one of those slow movies that’s slow. In some sequences, time is stretched until it almost seems to stop. But once you find the movie’s rhythm, you’ll find that those stillnesses have the warm feeling of moments that stretch because you don’t want to look at the clock and disturb them. At the same time, No. 7 Cherry Lane is one of VIFF’s most bizarre and dynamic offerings, with lascivious magical cats, mystifying dream sequences, deep dives on Proust, and an extremely subjective approach to time. There’s probably something for everyone to hate in Yonfan’s movie, but it’s so full of love and nostalgia that you’ll probably get swept away if you give it half a chance. Swept away very slowly, that is.