Dialogue: Doris Doerrie


There have been many male directors famous for their insights into women. But few if any woman filmmakers have created as many pointedly accurate portraits of men as German writer-director Doris Doerrie. After a two-year film education in California and New York, and further training in Germany and a few years of working in television, Doerrie rose to international fame with her 1985 hit "Men." Her English-language "Me & Him" (1988), starring Griffin Dunne and Craig T. Nelson, featured a talking penis, and "Enlightenment Guaranteed" (2000) put two hapless German brothers into a teensy Tokyo apartment with a Sumo wrestler -- a monumental confrontation with manhood, to say the least.

In addition to claiming fame as a sharp-eyed observer of the supposedly stronger sex, Doerrie has become an established opera director. Her production of Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte," with Daniel Barenboim on the podium of the Berliner Staatsoper, was released as a DVD in 2002. And her 15 published novels, children's books and short story collections have won several literary prizes, including the German Book Prize. Doerrie's latest work, "Cherry Blossoms -- Hanami" is as important a departure from her earlier films as "Interiors" was for Woody Allen. But with its selection for the Berlin International Film Festival competition and two major German awards -- the Bavarian Film Prize for best picture and for star Elmar Wepper as best actor -- even before its world premiere, "Hanami" looks set to become a breakthrough Doerrie film of a very different kind than "Men."

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The Hollywood Reporter: In the press information for "Hanami," it sounded like you had made the film just because you wanted to shoot a movie in Japan. Is that true?
Doris Doerrie: Of course not. But this film had a story that was very involved with Japan, because that's where Butoh is, and that's where the cherry blossoms are. Cherry blossoms are a famous symbol of impermanence, and where else do cherry blossoms have such mythological force?

THR: So the cherry blossom came first, and then came the story.
Doerrie: This story has so many different sources. For instance, I realized I could write it from the perspective of both the children and the parents, because I'm the mother of an 18-year-old daughter as well as still being a child of my own parents. So ("Hanami"'s main characters) Rudi and Trudi's image of their adult children is approaching my own -- and at the same time, like almost all children, I have this permanently bad conscience that I don't take care of my parents enough. These two biographical factors have just now gotten to the point where I'm in exactly the right position to write this film.

THR: Was one of the sources for the story of "Hanami" the Jack Nicholson film "About Schmidt"?
Doerrie: No. The inspiration was really in films that are much older and much more experimental, like Jonas Mekas on the American side or Yasujiro Ozu on the Japanese side. In general, I'm less influenced by current films than I am by literature, opera, dance and film history.

THR: Your comedies are full of dialogue, and in "Hanami" there is much less talk. Was that difficult? Was it even conscious?
Doerrie: Actually it was quite liberating to have a book that wasn't so dialogue-heavy. Writing dialogue is my strength, and I'm known for writing very fast-paced dialogue. But I luxuriated in being able to direct so much silence and allowing myself to pay attention to other things. When you have to direct a lot of dialogue, it takes over -- that becomes your whole job. Being able to ignore that was inspiring.

THR: And all the silence came from Butoh.
Doerrie: No -- it came from the story, it came from the characters. Someone like Rudi doesn't talk much. It's all his fault. (Laughs) But speaking of fast-paced dialogue, there's something that has always fascinated me and that I only discovered when I went to the United States. Because of the Third Reich, the great Jewish film culture in terms of writing dialogue was abruptly choked off. If you look at how dialogue was being written in German comedies, it was all Jewish authors. And of course there were all kinds of very successful Jewish directors, the most famous being Billy Wilder and Ernst Lubitsch, who introduced this breakneck speed into German dialogue. And then came a great silence starting in 1945. Screwball comedy writing disappeared completely here. All of the authors had either been killed or had emigrated. So when I studied film in the States, I discovered this Jewish culture in English, and I understood why it didn't exist in German anymore. I learned the technique of speaking quickly and cleverly in the States. I certainly didn't learn it here in Germany.

THR: And now, in the palette of young German directors who are doing so well internationally, where do you see your place?
Doerrie: Nowhere. These kinds of classifications tend to become jails pretty quickly, so it's not so bad when you can't be classified.

THR: Can we expect more films like "Hanami" from you?
Doerrie: That will come out of the story. I can't say that this is the only way I want to make films anymore, because then I would have to force the story into the kind of form it would need to be in in order to be shot like that. It has to make sense in terms of the story.