Cherry Blossoms (Strand Releasing, NR)

film_cherry_sm.jpgOne person’s glurge is another person’s incredibly meaningful examination of the fragility of life.








Audience and critical reaction to Doris Dörrie’s Cherry Blossoms is sure to be split down the middle, for this reason: One person’s glurge is another person’s incredibly meaningful examination of the fragility of life. And with a film as blatant in its manipulations as this one, it won’t take long to figure out which camp you’ll be in.

Cherry Blossoms is Dörrie’s attempt to express her admiration for Japan and work through her Yasuhiro Ozu obsession: his classic Tokyo Story is an obvious influence on this film. The story involves an aging civil German servant (Elmar Wepper) whose life is a model of predictability. He takes the train to the city, puts in his day at the office, and takes the train home again. His placid wife (Hannelore Elsner) has subsumed her own desires to those of her husband for so long that she hardly seems to exist independently of him, yet she doesn’t really know him either. Case in point: Every day she includes an apple in his lunch, thinking it keeps him healthy, and every day he gives it away to his office partner. Prefiguring the many parallels which are to come, their names are Rudi and Trudi.

Then a routine medical checkup reveals that Rudi has Hollywood Mystery Disease, which has no symptoms and no cure but leaves the sufferer looking and feeling fine. For reasons known only to themselves, the doctors inform Trudi of this fact, but leave Rudi in the dark. She decides not to tell him about the sword hanging over his head, but immediately wants to start taking trips. First she suggests Tokyo, where one of their kids works and which she’s longed to visit for years. Too expensive and too much trouble, says Rudi, so they settle on visiting their other two kids in Berlin.

The Berlin visit doesn’t go well; apparently Rudi wasn’t much of a father to the kids, and now they don’t have time for him. He brings sausages as a gift to a vegetarian daughter, openly disapproves of her lesbian lifestyle, and hasn’t the first idea what his favorite son does for a living. The couple heads to a seaside resort, with Rudi still mystified about why his wife is suddenly possessed by the urge to travel.

Then comes the first major plot twist, as Trudi dies unexpectedly (also of Hollywood Mystery Disease), leaving Rudi and the kids to sort themselves out. Stricken with guilt as he suddenly realizes how little he actually knew his wife, Rudi heads to Japan to visit his third son and try to connect with whatever drew Trudi to that culture.

The first half of Cherry Blossoms is an honest, if unexceptional, look at a somewhat dysfunctional German family. But when Rudi heads to Japan for atonement and enlightenment, it falls off the rails completely, as a succession of amazing coincidences and forced emotional reversals sorely test the patience of even a moderately critical audience member. I won’t further spoil the plot; you can probably guess most of what happens anyway.

Cherry Blossoms is not a complete train wreck, although at 127 minutes it’s way too long for the ground that it covers. It has moments of insight and the actors do the best they can with a script that isn’t doing them any favors. The cinematography by Hanno Lentz is excellent, and Claus Bantzer’s music is also very good without being obtrusive. It’s just too bad Dörrie (who wrote the screenplay in addition to directing) feels the need keep pushing her audience’s buttons, to make every point insultingly obvious, and in general to impose stereotypical characters and simplistic sentiments on a film which purports to examine the complexity of human life. | Sarah Boslaugh

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