TIFF – Saturday Fiction

Released 2019

2 stars (out of 4)

This movie, set in 1941 Shanghai during the Japanese occupation, was too… advanced for me.

There were very many characters, each with their own allegiances, motivations, and secrets. Four languages were spoken prominently in the film (Chinese, Japanese, French, English); at least I had the benefit of recognizing each of them when I heard them, otherwise it would have been even harder to keep track of who was whom. In general, it was challenging to discern what was truth and what was a lie when the characters interacted with each other. That applied to the main character too. Great that she was a badass film star/undercover agent, but she remained as much of an enigma to the viewer as to her allies and enemies.

Additionally, there was a “play within a play” (the film shares the name Saturday Fiction with the play) which seemed to blend in to reality.

Based on the title, this blurring of fact and fiction might have been the whole intent, but for me, I could not tell what the movie was trying to say then.

The film was all in black and white, shot with hand-held cameras closely following the characters. With a period piece like this, I would have liked to have seen some historical scenery images, but there was not much to be found here beyond the inside of the buildings.

TIFF – No.7 Cherry Lane

Released 2019

3 stars (out of 4), having the benefit of the director’s preface. Likely less without it.

3D-animated to start, then redrawn to appear 2D on a rice paper canvas, No.7 Cherry Lane takes place during the political unrest of 1967 Hong Kong. The film was made in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Beijing; and the dialogue is a mixture of Mandarin and Cantonese.

Director Yonfan was in attendance and he provided an interview and comments before the screening – which was a really good thing! Apparently, he does not watch animated works himself, so he did not have preconceptions about how things should be done, and so the film might be seen as unconventional. He also warned that it would be a slow movie and advised us how important he thought the soundtrack was.

Indeed, No.7 Cherry Lane was pretty different from the anime that I’m accustomed to, which values “show” over “tell.” Some parts were so heavily narrated that it seemed more like reading a book, with the images on screen matching the narration. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as otherwise I might not have known to pay attention to the somewhat mundane details. Yet, for all the abundant exposition in those scenes, there were just as many that could have benefitted from further explanation.

Some parts were just plain weird. I still don’t understand the point of the ball-less tennis match (at first I thought it was an artistic choice to not show the ball, while my sister thought it was a budgetary choice – but apparently there was actually no ball!) And particularly, that hallucinatory sequence near the end had us wondering, quite literally, “What the heck is she smoking?”

The computer-graphic origin of the art was especially apparent in the characters’ movements, which was the “slowest” part of the film. The way they walked reminded me of zombies; and if I had been streaming this on the computer, I might have thought I had a connection problem with how laggy it looked!

This is not to say I completely disliked the film. There were aspects that worked for me. The music was beautiful, as promised. The historical Hong Kong backdrop was a treat to behold. Additionally, I did ship the May-December romance between the 2 leads, even if the love triangle seemed unnecessary and (at least for me) incomprehensible.