SPIEGEL Interview with Director Doris Dörrie 'Death Can Make People Feel Very Alive'

German director Doris Dörrie's new film "Cherry Blossoms -- Hanami" is one of only two German films in competition at this year's Berlin International Film Festival. SPIEGEL talks to Dörrie about her love for Japan and why Germans should enjoy life more.

German director Doris Dörrie has returned to Japan for her latest film, "Cherry Blossoms."

German director Doris Dörrie has returned to Japan for her latest film, "Cherry Blossoms."

This year's Berlin International Film Festival features only two German films in competition. One of those is "Cherry Blossoms -- Hanami" by the celebrated German director Doris Dörrie, which tells the story of a widower who travels to Japan after the death of his wife.

"Cherry Blossoms" is the latest film by Dörrie to be inspired by Japan and its culture. Her 2000 comedy "Enlightenment Guaranteed" tells the story of two brothers who go to stay in a Japanese Zen monastery, while last year's "How to Cook Your Life" is a documentary about a Californian Zen priest and cook.

Dörrie, who is best known in Germany for her 1985 hit comedy "Men," is herself a practicing Zen Buddhist. She turned to the Japanese philosophy 16 years ago when her husband Helge Weindler, who was the cameraman on "Men," was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

The multi-talented Dörrie has also published several novels, short story collections and children's books, and has even staged and directed a number of operas.

SPIEGEL talked to Dörrie about her new movie, why she prefers Japan to Hollywood, and how films should appeal to different generations.

SPIEGEL: Ms. Dörrie, more and more German directors are being drawn west, to Hollywood. Why are you going in the other direction, to Japan, with films like "Enlightenment Guaranteed" and your new film "Cherry Blossoms -- Hanami" which is in competition at this year's Berlinale?

Dörrie: When I was invited to the Tokyo International Film Festival to show my first film, "Straight Through the Heart," I was swept away by Japan. On the other hand, I always had a very sober relationship to Hollywood -- I never saw it as a mythical place. I went there for the first time when I was 18, as a student. After the considerable success of "Men," the studios took me on a real schmooze tour through their dream factory. It was very exciting to hear everyone praising me and telling me that they wanted to work with me -- anyone would have been floored by the attention. A short time later, I made my first American film, "Me and Him," but I soon realized that it wasn't my world.

SPIEGEL: Why not? In your novel, "Und was wird aus mir?" ("What Will Happen to Me?"), you describe Hollywood as a place full of fear and neuroses. Did you flee from Hollywood?

Dörrie: No, I just didn't like constantly having to be in a good mood. It was too much for me. I also missed my native language, which I write my stories in. But what I missed most of all in Hollywood was being able to sit quietly in a café and watch people. That's important for my writing.

SPIEGEL: And you're able to find this meditative peace and quiet in Japan?

Dörrie: Yes, but that isn't the only reason I like to shoot films there. I tell the stories of people who are attracted to Japan because they are looking for something that they cannot find in Germany. But in many cases their heads are also filled with clichés about Japan. Rudi, the main character in "Hanami," wants to experience the cherry blossom festival and see Mt. Fuji. I've been going to Japan for more than 20 years now, but I've always missed both of them. Either the cherry blossom season was already past, or Mt. Fuji was obscured by fog. I should see both those things one day, I guess.

SPIEGEL: "Hanami" is about a man who travels to Japan after the death of his wife -- to a country that she loved but he never visited. In this case, sadness is a productive emotion.

Dörrie: Everyone wants to avoid pain, at least at first. But when you are no longer able to escape it, pain can act as an incentive to change your life. I do believe that death can make people feel very alive.

SPIEGEL: Do we repress the issue of death too much?

Dörrie: Yes. But -- fortunately -- we usually don't encounter it until very late in life. In poorer countries, death is more likely to be a constant presence in people's lives, which encourages them to enjoy life all the more intensely. They say to themselves: Death is already breathing down my neck, so I might as well have another dance on the table. In Germany, on the other hand, we have a "life insurance" mentality. We put off many things for the future. But I wanted to make a film that shows how we love with all our might, and that we shouldn't be miserly -- especially with our feelings.

SPIEGEL: Will filmmakers need to reach out to an older audience in the future, due to a lack of younger viewers?

Dörrie: I am lucky enough to still have both my parents and am the mother of a daughter. Hence I am in touch with both older and younger people. When, in "Cherry Blossoms," I show the problems that the Birgit Minichmayr character has with her mother, then I know the conflict from both sides. Maybe we should make films that bring the generations together.

SPIEGEL: "Hanami" is a very fast-paced film. Were you trying to tell a story about old age at a youthful pace?

Dörrie: The film is supposed to pulsate with life. The viewer should experience how someone explores a new world with all of his senses. At the same time, I wanted to keep the film fresh at all times. To achieve this, I was often forced to deviate from my plan. But that's one of the principles of Buddhism: You have to be prepared to completely abandon your plans at any time.

SPIEGEL: Has Japan changed the way you make films?

Dörrie: Buddhism teaches us to allow the world to influence us, instead of trying to force our view of things on the world. For me, as a director, this means that I don't always do everything strictly by the book. Instead, I am open to improvisation. It's a little like documentary filmmaking. I would never have had the confidence to do this in the past.

SPIEGEL: This is the first time one of your films has been in competition at the Berlinale. Are you intimidated by Germany's capital city at all?

Dörrie: No, not at all. As a good mother, I always kept Easter and summer vacations free so that I could spend time with my daughter. This meant that I couldn't start filming until the fall. I was never finished in time for Berlin.

Interview conducted by Lars-Olav Beier


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