Cherry Blossoms -- Hanami

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BERLIN -- Doris Doerrie the storyteller is in top form in "Cherry Blossoms -- Hanami," a surprisingly deep tale about a middle-aged German couple discovering love on the brink of death. The winner of multiple prizes at the Bavarian Film Awards, including best film, this involving drama full of unexpected twists has the passion to connect to large audiences. The leisurely, novelistic pace is in tune with the reflective, Japanese Zen side, but the film could stand a bit of trimming from its two-hour-plus running time.

Doerrie brings unusual force and conviction to the story of sensitive Trudi (Hannelore Elsner) and her dyed-in-routine husband, Rudi (Elmar Wepper), who is soon to retire from his managerial job. Trudi chooses not to reveal to him his doctor's diagnosis that he is suffering from a fatal illness and has only a short time to live.

Nor does she tell the truth to their grown children in Berlin, who are too busy with their own lives and problems to enjoy their parents' visit. In a few closely observed details, Dorrie effortlessly describes their career-blinded son with kids all over the floor and an insecure gay daughter whose partner is far more connected to her mom and dad than she is.

Just when the film seems ready to turn into a dysfunctional family saga, the story turns around with a brilliant coup de theater: Trudi suddenly dies in her sleep, dreaming of herself in the costume and makeup of a Japanese Butoh dancer.

The second half of the film shifts from her to Rudi, the stiff Bavarian manager who hated to travel and quenched his wife's fire and love of dancing with a lifetime of routine. All of a sudden he discovers how passionately he loved her. Following her memory, even wearing her clothes, he embarks on a voyage of self-discovery in Japan, where their son Klaus lives.

If it was easy to empathize with self-sacrificing Trudi in Elsner's delicate performance, it takes some effort to believe in Wepper's abrupt transformation from thick-skinned commuter to poetic, half-mad lover. Yet by the time he gets to Tokyo, most viewers will gladly suspend disbelief to follow the tale to its extremely touching but peaceful conclusion.

The final scenes are graced with the luminous performance of young Aya Irizuki as a teenage bag lady who surreally performs Butoh in a park as she works through the loss of her own mother. Wise beyond her years, she tells the grieving Rudi that everyone has a shadow they dance with.

There is a lot going on in a film full of symbols of impermanence -- flies, flowers, cherry blossoms. From Hokusai's well-known drawings of Mount Fuji to famed dancer Tadashi Endo's pain-filled Butoh performances, Doerrie goes beyond the "Lost in Translation" jokes about East-West culture clashes to communicate something meaningful and deep about Japanese art and thought.

Shot in high-resolution HDTV by cinematographer Hanno Lentz, the images have lots of immediacy but lack the delicate elegance of the titular flowers, better reflected in Claus Bantzer's tripping music track.


CHERRY BLOSSOMS -- HANAMI
Olga Film
Credits:
Screenwriter-director: Doris Doerrie
Producer: Molly von Furstenberg, Harald Kugler
Associate producers: Patrick Zorer, Ruth Stadler
Director of photography: Hanno Lentz
Production designer: Bele Schneider
Music: Claus Bantzer
Costume designer: Sabine Greuning
Editors: Inez Regnier, Frank Muller
Cast:
Rudi: Elmar Wepper
Trudi: Hannelore Elsner
Franzi: Nadja Uhl
Yu: Aya Irizuki
Karl: Maximilian Brueckner
Karolin: Birgit Minichmayr
Klaus: Felix Eitner
Emma: Floriane Daniel
Celine: Celine Tannenberger
Robert: Robert Dohlert
Butoh-Tanzer: Tadashi Endo

Running time -- 127 minutes
No MPAA rating
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