Doris Dorrie is best known for the 1985 German film Men, a modest feminist comedy taking on sexual hierarchies. Its praise made Dorrie the Sofia Coppola of her day, celebrated as a standard-bearing female director. But unlike Coppola, Dorrie actually examined her characters social and psychological circumstances—perhaps because she had a fundamental connection to feminist ideas, or had a genuine filmmaking purpose.
Dorrie’s latest movie Cherry Blossoms (her first to be distributed in the United States since the 1990s) is good enough to remind contemporary film culture what Coppola lacks. Or put another way: Dorrie offers feminist ideas as the substance of her filmmaking and not the privilege of her femaleness.
In Cherry Blossoms a middle-aged German couple, Rudi and Trudi Angermeier (played by Elmar Wepper and Hannelore Elsner), find themselves distant from their grown-up children yet inarticulate with each other. Rudi and Trudi are from a generation unused to intimate communication. More honestly contrived than the hostile-hysterical American suburbanites DiCaprio and Winslet portray in Revolutionary Road, Rudi and Trudi believably settled into socially prescribed male and female patterns; accepting their lot. They raised a family and developed companionship almost unconsciously.
Trudi’s dream of visiting Japan gets deferred; her youngest, favorite child Karl (Maximilian Bruckner) broke away from the family—poignantly escaping to Japan. It’s when Rudi goes to visit Karl that Cherry Blossoms recalls Coppola’s Tokyo-set Lost in Translation, and Dorrie reveals a depth of imagination and feeling that exposes Sofia’s inadequacy.
Alienation was just a fashion posture for Sofia Coppola, but Dorrie probes the unexpected ways Rudi, Trudi and their children—isolated Karl, lesbian Karolin (Birgit Minichmayr) and self-reliant family man Klaus (Felix Eitner)—put off frustration, compensating for their imperfect family heritage. (Coppola never did confront her Electra complex; mistranslating it into the bland, vaguely romantic attachment of the rich American tourists played by Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray.)
Dorrie’s own filmmaking has sufficiently matured so that feminist family analysis is subsumed by a tender understanding of how her characters miscommunicate. She shows fumbling attempts at love: the Wes Anderson theme. It’s rich enough to overcome the trendy Western infatuation with Eastern mysticism. Without scoffing at European religion tradition, Trudi’s attraction to Oriental art and Rudi’s discovery of new possibilities when he follows through on Trudi’s fascination (trying on new gender and philosophical roles) has unexpected charm. Through this ever-expanding family love story, Dorrie subtly expresses the alienation of her own parents’ generation. It’s a kindly view of the ideology Dorrie inherited and examined rather than dutifully accepting.
In Japan, Rudi befriends Yu (Aya Irizuki), a young woman who practices Butoh dancing: the art form Trudi favored. It feels overly schematic when the girl introduces herself in English, saying “I am Yu.” But there’s also a kind of emotional splendor in this scheme, just as Rudi and Yu’s excursion to Mt. Fuji leads to an undeniable epiphany. (Although Hanno Lentz’s diffuse digital photography distracts from the natural beauty.) Zhang Yimou’s Riding Alone For Thousands of Miles told a richer transnational family tale; but Dorrie is clearly working out a political (feminist) preoccupation, and she shows shallow post-feminist trend-hoppers like Sofia Coppola how it can be done.
Directed by Doris Dorrie
Running Time: 127 min.
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