The first twenty or so minutes of “Cherry Blossoms” are so fine, so sad, so perfectly handled that it took me a good hour to realize that the rest of the movie wasn’t really that good.
Hannelore Elsner is informed by doctors that her husband is dying, but chooses not to let him in on the news. Instead, she suggests they visit their children, and delicately asks him questions about what he’d like to do before he dies. There is such carefully guarded pain in her acting – we watch her contemplate life without her lifelong companion, as well as realize that she doesn’t really know her children, and they don’t really want her around. The only person on earth she knows, understands, and enjoys is about to leave her. It’s a powerful performance. Too bad it’s cut short.
Because instead of him dying, she dies – suddenly, and while they are still on vacation. Now the movie is in the hands of Elmar Wepper, her husband, and he simply does not have the exquisite expressiveness Elsner has. He discovers he never really knew his wife, and takes off to Japan– she had a passion for Butoh that he squashed — to learn who she really was. “Cherry Blossoms” descends into a dull series of cliches about East and West, parents and children, communication, new beginnings and mortality — sort of an artsy German “Lost in Translation.”
But those first twenty minutes really rose above.