“Kirschblüten” (Cherry Blossoms, 2008) was a big hit in Germany. It evidences a sentimentality that I think is particularly German, though not one I would expect in a Doris Dörrie. Maybe it’s just that her movies that have made it across the Atlantic are comedies with considerable bite: “Männer” (Men, 1985) and “Erleuchtung garantiert” (Enlightenment Guaranteed, 1999). Like the second of those, “Kirschblüten” follows two Germans to Japan.
It starts in Bavaria, however, with Trudi Angermeier (Hannelore Elsner) being told that her husband Rudi (Elmar Wepper) is terminally ill. She avers that his inflexibility is such that he should not be told. Without knowing of his condition or that it is the raison d’être, he goes with her to Berlin, where Klaus (Felix Eitner), a son who is the father of their two grandchildren lives, as does a lesbian daughter Emma (Floriane Daniel).
The children have unresolved issues, particularly the favoritism the parents showed for Karl, who has run further away, to Tokyo. They do not make time for their (admittedly unexpectedly) visiting parents. The one who treats them best, showing them around Berlin and accompany Trudi to a butoh performance is Emma’s lover Franzi (Nadja Uhl).
Trudi wanted to be a butoh dancer and to see her favorite son’s adopted land. When she and Rudi take in how little their children care about them, how ungracefully they tolerate their visit, they continue on to the Baltic coast.
Only one of them will make it to Japan and staying with the other inhospitable, ungrateful child (Maximilian Brückner’s Karl). Considering that they could not figure out Berlin streetcar ticketing (with instructions in their own language), the vastly larger-scale and more alien is bound to be quite a challenge, but there is a homeless (well, she has a tent) butoh waif street performer (actually, she performs in a park) who helps the survivor get to Mount Fujiyama (which she says is “shy,” often hiding from view) and a final butoh dance.
I found the movie slow-paced, though very scenic (the tour of Berlin, cherry blossoms in bloom in Tokyo, Fuji, and the Bavarian Alps). The children who would not make time for their parents and had no patience with them made me cringe (and think of Ozu’s “Tokyo Story”), and is likely to stir guilt in most viewers who have recently become orphans, especially when the parents were very close and one was lost without the other…
Hannelore Elsner is immediately engaging as Trudi. Elmar Wepper, playing a man who always put work ahead of his children (in fact, he seems to have been more like an absent Japanese father than an authoritarian German one), is initially unsympathetic but evolves or unfolds or something. He deservedly won the German Film Award for best actor (losing the European one to Toni Servillo for “Il divo” and “Gomorra”). I’m not sure about Irizuki Aya (the waif/angel). Bruckner is very good as the prodigal son (the child who fled the greatest distance) and the one who is unable to maintain politesse.
BTW, though icons of evanescence, the cherry blossoms live longer than the mayfly (both have weighted places in the movie). And I especially liked the visit to the beach by the Angermeiers in funeral black and wearing shoes mixed with others is normal beach togs.
©2009, Stephen O. Murray