A sensual and languorous affair, this animated drama by Chinese director Yonfan casts a seriously woozy spell. On the surface, it’s a conventional love story – albeit of the ‘triangled’ variety – yet curlicued around it are colonial tensions, bonkers phallic dream sequences and a lengthy homage to a French movie icon. Not forgetting some magical cats that seem to have prowled straight out of a Haruki Murakami novel. It reminded me a little of a Wong Kar-wai film made in the style of ‘Waltz with Bashir’, only a bit weirder.
Topically, it’s set in the protest-filled Hong Kong of 1967, where Maoists march on the streets above which the British flag still flies. Mostly oblivious to the tumult, handsome literature student Ziming heads to the city’s leafy North Point district to start a part-time job as an English teacher to Meiling, the daughter of a 40-year-old single Taiwanese woman called Mrs Yu. As a former revolutionary herself, the political tensions aren’t lost on her. Neither are her stirrings of desire for the young Adonis working through ‘Jane Eyre’ at her kitchen table, or her own sense of fading beauty.
With feelings of his own, Ziming takes Mrs Yu on a regular movie date, mostly to see films starring Simone Signoret. Each, not coincidentally, stars the French screen icon as a troubled woman who falls for a younger man. Ziming, who deferentially refers to the actress as ‘Miss Simone’, seems to connect the characters with Mrs Yu, another older woman whose sadness and desires he can’t comprehend.
As well as a sun-dappled snapshot of Hong Kong at a very specific moment in time, ‘No 7 Cherry Lane’ offers a gorgeous evocation of the movies. Yonfan painstakingly recreates scenes from those Signoret movies – including her British new wave classic ‘Room at the Top’ – in his own painterly animation style, showing the power of cinema not just to make us feel, but to shape our feelings.
To call ‘No 7’ unhurried would be a major understatement: Yonfan started out as a photographer and this, his first animated movie, exists somewhere between the moving image and the still frame, its characters inching through its beautiful, picture-book cityscapes almost like they’re under sedation. It definitely demands patience – there were walkouts in my Venice screening – but it rewards it with a similarly narcotic effect.