Bearing Fruit


Cherry Blossom’ Director Defies Own Expectations With Career Success

At the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, The Washington Diplomat interviewed German filmmaker Doris Dörrie while she was promoting her latest film, “Cherry Blossoms,” a touching love story about a wife who coaxes her sheltered husband out of his shell, even after she is no longer with him.

The film is set mostly in Germany and Japan — and is an interesting reflection of each culture — although the filmmaker also has roots in the United States, having spent time here as a student in California and New York.

“It was quite a culture shock. I came from a provincial town in the north of Germany. It was the end of the hippie times, but still to me it was wild. It was very much about personal expression, your view of the world. It was not compartmentalized at all,” she recalled.

“What I learned from this country was a certain sense of humor and to be entertaining. In Germany, culture is seen as a very serious thing. It’s slightly suspicious when something is entertaining. These two things really go together, entertainment and the arts. That’s something I learned here.”

But the director also learned that acting was not her forte. “Drama was my major. I studied acting. I realized very early on that I wasn’t going to be an actress because I didn’t like to be on stage and be somebody else because I was too shy for that. Then I started trying to tell stories through writing.

“Slowly, I realized that making movies was really a great way to hide because the screenplay becomes something else,” Dörrie added, explaining that once the screenplay morphs into a movie, it becomes so much more than the original writing on which it is based, with actors, photography directors and others transforming the story with their input.

Yet the writing still plays a very fundamental role, especially financially. “When you write screenplays, every sentence is going to cost X amount of money — I know that I can raise this amount of money easily; that amount of money is going to be difficult; and that amount of money is going to be impossible. I’m very money-conscious when I write screenplays,” said Dörrie, who returned to Germany to finish up film school.

“When I went to school, it was perfectly clear that I was never going to be able to support myself financially by making films,” she said. “That was perfectly understood. I never doubted it. I worked through film school at McDonald’s. I was convinced I was going to be working at McDonald’s or some other job for the rest of my life and trying to make films on the side — which gave me enormous freedom because I didn’t expect anything from the film industry.”

Dörrie did work a variety of day jobs for about 10 years, but she got an unexpected surprise after the “mega-success” of “Men” in 1985 — a film in which a wife leaves her husband to take up with an artist, only to have her husband respond by becoming the artist’s roommate.

Since then, Dörrie has been fortunate enough to be able to make a living from filmmaking, with critical and commercial hits such as “Enlightenment Guaranteed” and “Am I Beautiful?”

She also currently heads the writing department at her old German film school — although she’s always cognizant of the difficulties of eking out a living from movies, at least one that’s fulfilling.

“Now the kids that I teach, they really want to find their space within the film industry, which in the end forces them to harbor TV work. They never get to do want they want to do — as opposed to having a job like McDonald’s and doing your stuff on the side. I find it very difficult now to try to be a commercial filmmaker, whatever that is, an artistic filmmaker. It puts much more pressure on you when you expect to support yourself financially by making films.”

About the Author

Ky N. Nguyen is the film reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.