Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cherry Blossoms (Kirschblüten - Hanami) A Film by Doris Dörrie (2008)

Rudi and Trudi are both nearing a point in their lives when it becomes increasingly essential to communicate true feelings, release inhibitions, celebrate inner desires, and break routine. Trudi, the wife, is aware of this. Rudi, who mechanically goes about his habits from day to day, is not. Trudi is also aware of Rudi's impending death from a terminal illness. Rudi is not. When Trudi manages to pry her husband from his humdrum groove and take him on a trip to Berlin to visit two of their equally disinterested children, Franzi and Klaus, Trudi startlingly dies in her sleep. These events, which bear a striking resemblance to Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story, make up the initial half of German filmmaker Doris Dörrie's Cherry Blossoms.

The film is not just narratively akin to Ozu's seminal benchmark in humane cinema though; Dörrie's approach here - which to be sure, is quite arbitrary when looking at the rest of her unpredictable career (she may have the only film about a talking penis in film history to her credit) - is just as attune to the rhythms of life as the Japanese master. Documentary-style editing and camerawork is frequently interspersed with pleasant cutaways that are a product of Dörrie's impressionistic eye. Her camera has a way of vibrating every last ounce of life out of flies, flowers, trees, ocean waves, and even the most spiritless Toyko buildings. This, along with her ability to extract stellar, authentic performances from her cast, give Cherry Blossoms a genuine feel of verisimilitude, intimacy, and lightness even when the story moves towards more tearjerking territory.

Following Trudi's death, which rhythmically feels very much like a second half, Rudi departs for Tokyo to stay with his other son, the disenchanted Karl, while attending the Cherry Blossom Festival. He does so upon learning through hidden paraphernalia of Trudi's disguised personality, which withheld passionate interests in Japan and their sense of spirituality, embodied most tellingly by Butoh dancing, a form of dance in which women paint their faces white, wear vibrant clothing, and evoke the concepts of birth and death with an alertness to past memories. Although Rudi is somewhat shocked by this unearthing at first, he slowly becomes more and more enamored by the idea of living out Trudi's unfulfilled hopes, even going to the length of wearing her favorite sweater during the process. At the Cherry Blossom Festival, a celebration of the omnipresent flower which is a symbol of the beauty of ephemerality, Rudi encounters Yu (whose name is the source of one of the film's many bouts of light humor), a vagabond Butoh dancer who he uses as both a channel to transcendence and a sweet friend indicative of a new beginning.

His meeting of Yu also brings about the final stage of his existential journey: Mt. Fuji. Cherry Blossoms' "second half" is not quite as satisfying and well executed as its first though; sometimes, Dörrie views Rudi's sorrow with such diligence that he becomes hopeless and awkward, and she also overpronounces some of her symbols, specifically the cherry blossoms and the flies, which arrive repeatedly to remind us that all things come and go. More perceptive are the ongoing images of shadows, a motif that is imitated by the reflection of Mt. Fuji against a lake towards the end, quietly emphasizing people's capacity to harbor separate, more discrete personalities. Dörrie could have worked out some kinks in the finished product, but there's no denying that Cherry Blossoms has a staying intimacy and truthfulness about it.

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