Coming to terms with terminal illness is a difficult experience, regardless of the details of the condition or the surrounding factors. As expected, the ordeal forms the basis of many film narratives, ranging from the sentimental (Terms Of Endearment) to the melodramatic (Beaches), the artistic (Wings Of The Dove) to the ensemble (Magnolia), the inventive (Big Fish) to the fantastical (The Fountain), and even the comedic (Funny People). Stealing Beauty and My Life Without Me have also explored variations of the theme, as have The Remains Of The Day and The Sea Inside, Moulin Rouge and Life As A House, and In America and The Painted Veil. German feature Cherry Blossoms – Hanami (Kirschblüten – Hanami) provides a worldly look at the tender topic as well as a touching take on mourning, courtesy of the resonant insights of writer / director Doris Dörrie (Am I Beautiful?, Naked).
Upon receiving the unexpected news of her husband’s ill health, devoted housewife Trudi (Hannelore Elsner, TV’s Die Kommissarin) decides to keep it from her family. Rather than burden Rudi (Elmar Wepper, a Dorrie regular from The Fisherman And His Wife) with the knowledge of his condition in his final days, she proposes a trip to visit their grown-up children in Berlin, forsaking her own dream of visiting Japan’s famous Mount Fuji. With their offspring Klaus (Felix Eitner, Riding The Storm), Karolin (Birgit Minichmayr, The White Ribbon) and Toyko-based Karl (Maximilian Brückner, Sophie Scholl: The Final Days) too busy to accommodate their parents, Trudi and Rudi bide their time sightseeing, before journeying to the Baltic Sea. When Trudi’s plans are thwarted by her own untimely demise, Rudi is left to grapple with his grief. Discovering the hidden side of his wife from the mementos and stories that remain, he embarks upon his own trip to fulfil her lifelong wishes. Striking up a friendship with a young Japanese woman (Aya Irizuki, in her first and only film role to date) in a park filled with cherry blossoms, he comes to acknowledge his predicament whilst honouring Trudi’s sacrifice, making the best he can of a sensitive situation.
An intimate drama that resounds with the intricacies of human relationships, Cherry Blossoms – Hanami attempts to encompass the space that remains when those closest to us near – or reach – the end of their existence. From the shock of a wife faced with charting a final adventure for her terminal husband, to a reversal of fortunes when the latter outlives the former, Dorrie’s carefully composed feature essays a range of reactions to and results of coping with the impact of mortality. As the understated Rudi traverses the emotional spectrum from despair and disbelief to awareness and acceptance, the filmmaker takes the audience along for the voyage by personalising his poignant plight. With a dash of whimsy in the Butoh dance subplot, a smattering of depth in the handling of cultural conflict, and an air of subtlety in Wepper and Elsner’s performances, it recalls the meditative nature of the works of Yasujiro Ozu (Tokyo Story), as well as the compelling content of recent Oscar winner Departures, in its eloquent and compassionate approach. Quiet and gentle, beautiful and buoyant, and sentimental and sorrowful, the outstanding feature film winner at the 2008 German Film awards is a moving and mature contemplation of love, life and loss.
Cherry Blossoms – Hanami is screening as part of the Windows On Europe film festival, currently screening in Canberra before touring Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne until April 2011. The Brisbane season runs from February 19 – 25 at Dendy Portside Cinemas.