Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms, at the Fine Arts in Asheville, is without a doubt one of the most beautiful and touching films I’ve ever seen. That it was also directed by a woman–in this case German “Renaissance woman” Doris D?rrie, who is also a cinematographer, writer and opera director–makes the film all more special to me. Rarely do I come out and say, “You must see this film!” I’m saying it now.

There are so many levels to Cherry Blossoms that it’s impossible to write about it in a one-page review. At the same time, the leisurely pace of the movie, combined with the sometimes dreamy visuals, give each theme a delicate accessibility, as if each were a brushstroke on a simple water color painting.

Just as they do in poetry, geographic locations in the movie act as metaphors for the development of the characters. Director D?rrie’s keen eye for the rhythms and different personalities of places is one of the joys of the film.

The story begins in Germany, in a small town in Bavaria, where empty-nesters Mrs. and Mrs. Angermeir live an orderly, peacefully monotonous life, blessedly happy, so it seems, in their long-lasting love for one another. Then to rush-rush Berlin where they visit two of their grown children and their families. Then off to the Baltic Sea for a rare vacation and a shocking plot twist.

Then abruptly Cherry Blossoms flies to Japan. To frantic, crowded, overwhelming, yen-obsessed downtown Tokyo–which is mercifully contrasted with a city park where the cherry blossoms remind everyone that Japanese culture used to honor the fleeting gloriousness of nature. In a final location that is both surprising and perfectly appropriate, Mt. Fuji proves that such a mountain has long and compelling shadows that reach back in time.

Now to the story, which I’ll reveal only in its essentials so you have some idea where things are going and won’t fear you have to rely too much on subtitles. The subtitles are easily grasped and they are few since the visuals carry the greater role in storytelling.

Trudi Angermeir (Hannelor Eisner) is an earthy hausfrau whose life revolves around assuring the predictability of life with her beloved husband Rudi (Elmar Wepper). He goes to work at the precise moment every day and returns with the same punctuality. Trudi is different. She harbors a secret desire to be a butoh dancer, to animate her unpredictable self in the stark white make-up and exaggerated, sometimes grotesque but incredibly expressive movements of the distinctly Eastern dance. We never learn how she discovered this strange art form nor why she loves it so. All we know is that she has worn a kimono for many years and she yearns to visit her youngest son who lives in Japan.

One day Trudi learns the news that all long-married women fear–her husband is ill and has only a short time to live. But she decides not to tell him. Instead she convinces him to visit their children in Berlin. In an agonizing sequence that might prove too painful for both senior parents and their grown children, we learn that the Angermeir kids still cling to their ancient angers and petty resentments–the oldest son and the daughter make it very clear that neither they nor their families have enough time to spare for the elderly couple. You want to shake each and every member of this family, but you know it’s no use. Some families just don’t “get it” until it’s too late.

The only bright spot in Berlin is that Trudi has the chance to see a live performance by a well-known butoh dancer, Tadashi Endo. His hypnotic one-man show, performed only in a loincloth and on a bare stage shows the intense concentration and fierce emotionality of the art.

Trudi insists on prolonging their vacation with a trip to the Baltic Sea. She and her husband huddle together against the cold sea wind in her bright blue sweater and later than night she seductively beguiles him into mirroring her gestures in a butoh dance of her own. The next morning Rudi discovers Trudi has died in her sleep. His horrified scream pierces your heart.

And here the film, often like the life of the partner left behind, takes off onto a new and totally unexpected path. Rudi goes to Japan to stay with his youngest son, Karl, and try to learn why his wife was so fascinated with the distant and to him, very alien, country. Missing his wife in the very molecules of his body, Rudi takes to wearing Trudi’s clothes, the bright blue sweater and even her skirt, underneath his coat.

Rudi finds himself in a nearby park, while it’s bursting with cherry blossoms. Here he meets an enigmatic young female street performer named Yu (Aya Irizuki). Yu performs a butoh dance in which she connects to her dead mother, as she did in life, on a pink telephone. The two grievers, perhaps 40 years apart in chronological age, learn to communicate haltingly in pidgin English and Rudi begins to discover what it was in Japanese culture that so enchanted his wife.

He is anguished (and rightly so) that he didn’t take the time to find out Trudi’s secret longings while she was alive. These realizations sound glib when describing them on the page, but in the film they are portrayed in exquisite, breathtaking beauty, almost like a string of haiku. Rudi begs Yu to accompany him to Mt. Fuji so he can see it for himself, and thus, by extension, show it to his wife whom he is convinced he now carries in his body.

And thus is the barest of a bare outline of a film that the page can’t possibly do justice. Never has there been such a film portrayal of love and the fleeting time we have to enjoy it.

I saw Cherry Blossoms a few days ago and can’t stop thinking about it. Everywhere I look I am imagining the pink and white magic of a forest of cherry blossoms and fall asleep with them in my memory. What a wonderful time of year for this film to be shown in Asheville.

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