Living to tell a tale

Doerrie says it's all in the storytelling

She is Germany's most successful woman director and has made her reputation with bittersweet romantic comedies. But that doesn't make Doris Doerrie the German Nancy Meyers.

Doerrie is an established opera director, working with such classical music luminaries as Zubin Mehta and Daniel Barenboim. Her novels and short-story collections have garnered several literary awards, including the German Book Prize. She has won the German Medal of Honor, the country's highest civilian distinction.

And still she feels like an outsider.

"I've gotten used to it," she said at a recent interview in Munich, the day before her latest film, "Cherry Blossoms — Hanami," which had its world premiere at the 58th Berlin International Film Festival last month, won the Bavarian Film Prize as best picture. "First of all, I'm a woman, so it's a matter of course. Then it's because I'm a novelist, because I direct operas, and because I've made some very, very commercially successful movies that are really more like auteur films."

Because German critics do tend to tie themselves into knots when categorizing Doerrie's films, "Hanami" should make them breathe easier. Though it is not without humor, Doerrie's latest release is unquestionably her most serious exploration yet of themes that have occupied her since her 1985 breakthrough hit "Men" — among them, the masks we wear and the politics of love.

"It's interesting to observe how capitalistic our feelings have become," Doerrie says of modern romance. "How often do we say things like, 'I've invested so much in this relationship, and what am I getting out of it?' There's a creeping consumer attitude about love today."

"Hanami" also draws on the documentary-style cinematic techniques Doerrie used in "Enlightenment Guaranteed" (2000), a film shot partly in a Japanese Zen monastery with little more than a hand-held digital camera. "Some stories have to be filmed in a certain way," Doerrie says. "The technique always has to suit the story. I couldn't make a historical film (in the same way 'Hanami' was made), for instance."

Not that a historical film is in the works — Doerrie's next project is to complete the fifth installment in a series of children's books about a little girl named Mimi. "It's very special to have a book in your hand," she says about the difference between writing books and making movies. "The film you shoot in your head when you're reading a book is of course the best film ever made."

Ultimately, it is being a storyteller that interests Doerrie the most. "Whether it ends up being a film or a book — the medium of the storytelling — is just a question of craft. What's a good story? That's the main issue for me. Then eventually I'll decide if it's a film or a novel or something else."