All about the ongoing Toronto International Film Festival 2019

Yonfan’s 'No. 7 Cherry Lane' adds zing to Toronto film festival

Actors Tian Zhuangzhuang, Sylvia Chang, director Yonfan and Alex Lam. File  

If there is cinema can politics be far behind? Hong Kong’s Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement reached the doors of Toronto International Film Festival with a handful of peaceful protesters appealing for a “Free HK”.

Ironically, iconic Hong Kong filmmaker, photographer and art connoisseur Yonfan’s first animated feature film, No. 7 Cherry Lane, playing in the special presentations section of TIFF, is also set against the backdrop of protests: the 1967 leftist riots between the pro-communists and the government. While large scale demonstrations against British colonial rule are under way on the streets of Hong Kong, the address, which is also the title of the film, becomes home for a stormy personal upheaval.

Ziming, a student at the University of Hong Kong, finds himself sucked into a love triangle involving Meiling, who he is tutoring in English and her mother Mrs. Yu. The forbidden emotions and transgressive carnal desires reach the peak with a bizarre but fascinating sequence involving cats. Politics and passion receive further fodder from the world of arts, specially literature, with animated discussions on Bronte and Proust running alongside, providing an intellectual propulsion to the political and personal unrest.

No. 7 Cherry Lane reminded me a lot of Bernardo Bertolucci’s lush erotica The Dreamers (2003), set against the Paris student riots of 1968, with a pair of siblings and an American student getting entangled in an erotic triangle in politically tumultuous times. Both films are atmospheric, and both reference cinema. Yonfan doffs his hat specially to films, specially those involving younger men in love with older women (including The Graduate), reinterprets and recreates scenes in animation.

In the opening credits, he refers to No. 7 Cherry Lane as a dedication to Hong Kong. In an audience interaction, he spoke about 1967 as the year when he was 20, “the year that was most meaningful to me”. “No matter what happens, it is a place I love,” he said of Hong Kong. The spectacularly vivid and mesmerising animation is as much about nostalgia and memory of the Hong Kong of his youth as it is about detailing and craft.

Right texture

According to Yonfan, original 3-D illustrations were turned into 2-D images on rice paper to get the right texture for the film and it took several years of hard work and intensive labour to put his passion project together.

Pietro Marcello’s Martin Eden, about a sailor (Luca Marinelli) wanting to get educated and become a writer, won Marinelli the best actor award at Venice recently and also bagged the Platform award at TIFF that champions “bold directorial visions”.

The film is as much about love, class divides, aspirations and social mobility as it is about politics colliding with the world of literature. You feel one with the writer, his ideals and ambitions, interminable struggles, eventual success as well as the arrogance, ego, the conveniently changing world view and self-destruction that seep in along with it.

Marcello mixes archival footage in the film to create a sense of timelessness. Martin Eden is a compelling document about the eternal aesthetic, and political, conceits and posturing.

(The writer is in Toronto at the invitation of TIFF)

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Printable version | Sep 16, 2021 9:38:00 AM |

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