There aren’t all that many films on the topic of aging romances. If you take the occasional late-in-the-day romantic comedy out of the mix, you’re not left with much. And what you are left with of genuine merit largely comes down to Leo McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow (1937), Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953) and now Doris Dörrie’s Cherry Blossoms. And while Dörrie’s film—which by her own admission has its roots in both McCarey’s and Ozu’s films—may not quite attain the precision of its companions (equaling Make Way for Tomorrow would probably be impossible), it’s certainly a worthy addition to a limited catalog.
Dörrie’s film begins with the announcement of an impending death. Trudi Angermeier (Hannelore Elsner) is told by doctors that her husband, Rudi (Elmar Wepper), has a fatal illness—one that the progression of is difficult to predict. They suggest that maybe the pair consider going on some kind of “adventure.” But Trudi knows better. She knows that the one thing Rudi likes beyond all else is adhering to his established routine. Still, Trudi keeps the knowledge of his fate to herself and tries to encourage him to take a trip with her to Japan, the one place she’s always wanted to visit and where their son, Karl (Maximilian Brückner), lives.
The best she can get out of Rudi, however, is a trip to Berlin to visit their other son, Klaus (Felix Eitner), and their daughter, Karolin (Birgit Minichmayr). This quickly turns into a minor disaster since neither their son, nor his family, nor Karolin has time for them. Indeed, the only one who doesn’t seem put out by their presence is Karolin’s girlfriend, Franzi (Nadja Uhl)—a fact that’s essential to the path of the movie (and one drawn from the McCarey film). It is Franzi, the outsider, who takes Trudi to see a Butoh dancer, something no one else is interested in or interested in taking the time to do. Realizing they’re “in the way,” Rudi and Trudi take a trip to the Baltic Sea, and it’s there that the film takes an unexpected turn when the presumably healthy Trudi dies in her sleep, leaving Rudi alone with a family that has no clue what to do with him.
Rather than submit to their forced kindness, Rudi sets off to visit Karl in Tokyo, where he tries to get a grip on his life, on what happened, and to somehow make amends for the life he feels he prevented Trudi from having. The second half of the film gets down to its big questions about the impermanent nature of life and love. This is accomplished by a somewhat contrived development when the mourning Rudi meets a young Butoh dancer, Yu (Aya Irizuki), who—in a Butoh dance—“communicates” with her dead mother over a pink telephone. Through her, Rudi slowly comes to himself and to a sense of expiating his guilt over Trudi. As with Franzi, it’s again the outsider who steps in when the family doesn’t—and, like Franzi, feels she hasn’t really done anything of note.
A bare reading of the plot doesn’t actually do justice to the subtle beauty of this exquisite little film, which has so much more to it than any description can encompass. It’s a little shy of perfect. The last act comes close to outstaying its welcome, but offers enough compensation to never quite do that. The pitch of it all is at once unbearable in its sadness, and yet as uplifting as anything you’re apt to see. And I very much recommend that you see this film. Not rated, but contains some nudity and adult themes.