Tuesday, January 13, 2009

West meets east in Dörrie's delicate CHERRY BLOSSOMS

Having seen Doris Dörrie's lovely and amazing (to crib a Nicole Holofcener phrase) CHERRY BLOSSOMS only a few days prior to reading Jan Stuart's excellent piece on this long-time writer/director in last Sunday's New York Times, I experienced a pleasant gust of memory at the many pleasures this movie offers. I've been a fan -- off and on -- of the films of Ms Dörrie (shown below) ever since my first experience with her

1985 comedy Men. Since then, I've found her output a little up and down, but the last three films I've seen Enlightement Guaranteed, How to Cook Your Life and now Cherry Blossoms, have tipped me over into her fold, where I expect to remain.

In telling her story of an older couple, Rudi and Trudi -- one of whom at the outset receives some bad news -- Ms Dörrie compiles a wonder of small details: Trudi ironing away a teardrop, the couple sharing her sweater for warmth, scarves used to mark locations. These little moments slowly build into an indelible story. From a visit by the couple to their children, one of whom works in Japan, the movie carries us to the east and to Butoh dance, first via a concert given in Germany and then through the film's third indelible character, a young Japanese girl played winningly by Aya Irizuki, show below, right, and at top, wrapped.

Dörrie does not slam her points home; she gives wide berth to even the typically self-involved adult children of the couple -- and thus makes these kids all too real. And her use and acknowledgment of Japanese movie master Yasujiro Ozu, though this seems to have set some people's teeth on edge, appears to me as quite appropriate. You can love Ozu and still appreciate what Ms Dörrie has accomplished. My only caveat is that she has shot her movie on video rather than film, and it looks it. The beauty of the visuals are constantly undercut by the process used to record them. Yet, I doubt there was a budget for any filming more expensive than what we see here. In The New York Times piece, the writer/director acknowledges how the use of video gave her more freedom and access, not to mention less budget restrictions. The fact that Cherry Blossoms exists in any form is reason to rejoice.

Hannelore Elsner, right, as Trudi and Elmar Wepper as her husnamd Rudi

For older viewers, in particular, an interesting by-product of watching this film is the awareness it brings of how much has changed in our world regarding Germany and Japan. Our country's two greatest enemies when I was a child have now combined to offer us a film full of peace and love -- and not the usual cliché way. What the movie manages to do -- its great strength, really -- is to put us westerners in touch with thoughts and feelings about primal things -- family life, love and death -- and then offer new ways of experiencing them that I can only describe as "eastern." Dörrie and her splendid cast and crew coax us gently into a different world, where we remain for only two hours (this is a movie, after all). But having been in this place, even briefly, may leave us slightly changed. I've heard the film described as a "weepie." It is nothing of the sort. If anything, we finish it with a sense of peace about some of the very things that sadden and/or frighten us the most. Dörrie's closing shot involves a marker. This is appropriate because her film itself can be perceived as a kind of marker, guiding us on our journey.

Hannelore Elsner, left, with Nadja Uhl, who plays the companion of Trudi's daughter

The diverse distributor Strand Releasing is opening Cherry Blossoms this Friday in NYC at one of my favorite venues, the Landmark Sunshine Cinema. I suggest a visit. I also hope the film will receive at least a limited roll-out nationally. It'll undoubtedly come to DVD in time, and since it was made on video, watching it that way should not lessen its impact.


rosalie said...

this truly is the best review i've read about one of my favourite films 'cherry blossoms'. it's one of the rare films which mood and meaning remain in memory.

as i find doris dörrie is one of the most interesting german directors as well as authors i always look forward to her new films. at least her work did never disappoint me. i like the mix between the meaning of her stories with her fine sense for humour.

the first movie i saw was 'keiner liebt mich (nobody loves me)' shot in 1994 and i immediately liked it a lot. absolutely worth-seeing as well.

James van Maanen, said...

Thanks, Rosalie. Glad to know someone out there is reading -- and seeing and thinking -- about Cherry Blossoms. Are you in England, by the way? (Just guessing from your spelling of "favourite") Or maybe Germany? Thanks for the tip regarding Nobody Loves Me. I'll try to find that one, if it exists on DVD over here...