Doris Dörrie turned out as the one to defend Germany’s honor in the Competition section of the 58th Berlinale. Cherry Blossoms (Hanami is its Japanese title) brings us once again into the usual main points of Doris Dörrie’s cinema: a well-constructed sociologically and psychologically simple story, obvious cinematographic references and a marked interest in music as a preferred form of artistic expression.
A regular topic: the story of a couple who is touched by fatality and condemned to suffer from imminent death. It is evidently been told many times before, also in cinema. The German director’s influences are clear and she includes all these too, as she refers to two main cinema classics in her film: American Leo McCarey’s Make Way For Tomorrow (1937) and Japanese Yasujiro Ozu, with his excellent Tokyo Story (Tokyo monogatari, 1953). Since it is clear from the very beginning, the cinephile point of view in viewing the film is a clear and natural matter.
Doris Dörrie comes back to the same old good subject because she thinks it is still an actual one and, more importantly, because she wants it to be a universal one. Between Far West and Far East, there is a place in between, and besides she also gives back the subject to its real origins.
After having lost Trudi, his main love in life and the one without whom he could not do anything by himself, Rudi begins something that he never wanted to do before when his wife was alive: go to Japan to visit the Fuji Mountain. It will turn out to be his ordeal, a Stations of the Cross of his own, as it can obviously be defined with. It is not a banal reason which put him into making his journey; it is neither tourism nor his son Karl’s visit, and still not a query for relief after his cherished wife’s death; someone who gave him stability, harmony and a sense to his life.
When Trudi knows about her husband’s cancer (the doctor telling only her about the truth and nobody else) she only has something in mind: to keep it secret and to make her husband´s life the happiest possible for the little that is left. The idea of travelling doesn’t mean anything special to him, even less travelling to Japan. They are lost in everyday life and the children’s visit doesn’t run smoothly. It is the moment that Doris Dörrie chooses for exactly and concisely to describe a destroyed modern family, but never turning it into social drama, even though the simplest word, in another trivial situation, dresses itself way ahead into tragedy in the characters’ context and also with an extreme sensitiveness.
Rudi finds himself in front of the Mount Fuji then, not being something he was hoping to do but a fascinating view, of a kind, for his wife it had always planned to be. Meeting a young Butho dancer there puts him in the tracks of his old wife’s dream: she really wanted to interest and initiate him in its dancing art. One evening, in front of the magic mountain, the old man finally dies, embracing his wife’s shadow.
One could possibly believe that what we have here is one of those typical pathetic stories on fatal and incurable diseases which will put into despair a family, even harder taking into account that the illness itself causes pain. The entire picture, though, is briefly and subtly exposed from the very beginning, and Doris Dörrie will finally carry us way further — from many different points of view, obviously from a geographical side, but also from a cultural one and, the most important, always in a cinematographic basis. The mother and wife’s discreet knowledge of Rudi’s disease allows the audience to have a hand in it, making us look at the film as always being aware of the slightest sign of affection, or the lack of it. This puts everything into such a sincere path that it is the silence that is most important in the film and not words. The different family members’ way of life is scanned therefore by Trudi’s sharp eye, at the same time protecting all of them from pain with her discretion. She will carry on herself, to death, the secret of Rudi’s disease but, at the same time too, all the pain that her whole family could have been exposed to. It is pain what brings her into a sort of elevation, not far from Christ’s Passion, an image which by the way answers to her always the felt impression of having been anywhere else than in real life.