An adoptive mother’s love knows no bounds in the simple yet rich and tasty Chinese drama, “Cherries.” Beautifully photographed and emotionally engaging, this Mainland melodrama, reportedly based on a true story, forgoes triple helpings of schmaltz in favor of dramatic restraint and unbridled warmth. Pic bowed in Tokyo fest after floating around unheralded since screening in the Cannes market. Commercial prospects look strongest in Chinese-language territories, though film reps an opportunity for dedicated niche distribs.
Set in the village of Aicun, Yunnan province, pic begins in the early ’80s, with poor, lame farmer Ge Wang (Tuo Guoquan) pressured by his family to marry the mentally and emotionally stunted Cherry (Miao Pu). Ge weds the unkempt but harmless woman, who spends most of her time chasing children and offering them the fruit that is her namesake.
Once married, the shamelessly sexual and embarrassingly naive Cherry shows an insatiable desire to have her own child. Fate intervenes in the second act when Cherry finds an abandoned baby girl in the woods. Though the sprig, named Scarlet, comes complete with a handful of bank notes, Ge panics, thinking he can’t afford to raise a child, and reacts in callous fashion.Final section puts a pre-pubescent Scarlet (Long Li) centerstage as she deals with the stigma of having a mentally handicapped mother whose affection is both infinite and frequently inappropriate.
Lead actress Miao — also in helmer Zhang Jiabei’s J-horror-like “Clay Fear” (2006) — is disturbingly authentic as Cherry, offering a powerful turn where most actors would have merely chewed the scenery. Tuo and Long are both sympathetic in roles that often require them to behave cruelly.
Direction is deceptively simple and unaffected, letting the touching scenario by Bao Shi (“The Road Home”) gently unfold. Though story is explicitly linked to China’s one-child policy of the ’80s, heartstrings the world over will respond to the expert plucking.
Photography by Japanese vet Osame Maruike appears to be substantially conducted in natural light, which is both exquisite to behold and heightens the sense of realism. Rest of the technical package is decidedly pro.