A Buddhist-Inspired Chronicler of the Present
Since her 1985 hit comedy “Men”, Doris Dörrie has been one of Germany’s best-known filmmakers. A portrait of a creative maverick whose true vocation is collecting stories.
German cinema was stirred up in 1985 by an up-and-coming director who was only 30 years old at the time. In her gender comedy Men (Männer), Doris Dörrie, born in 1955 in Hannover, zeroed in on the vanities of yuppie go-getters and devil-may-care dropouts alike and really hit the mark: no-one had captured the spirit of the 1980s as nimbly and intelligently before. With this little comedy, the nascent filmmaker pulled off a pretty rare feat in German cinema: making a sophisticated and yet mightily amusing film. Men reached five million viewers in Germany alone and triggered a new wave of romantic comedies. The newcomer became the most well-known director in the country, which she remains to this day.
Culture can be funLike her antihero Stefan in Men, Doris Dörrie was still sharing a flat with housemates back then, though unlike Stefan she did not let success “go to her head”. In her subsequent 17 features to date (as well as great many telefilms), instead of sticking to the tried-and-tested recipe of “feel-good” comedies, she proved herself a self-willed filmmaker with the courage to be unconventional. She had already defied convention in Men by breaking with what may be a typical German intellectual doctrine that highbrow films aren’t supposed to be entertaining. “The idea behind it is if I’m entertained, it can’t be culture. I’m afraid that’s incredibly as inine and boring.”Dörrie, on the other hand, who went to the US at the age of 18 to study film and acting,has internalized the Anglo-American credo: first and foremost, “tell a good story.” So did another German film-maker, producer Bernd Eichinger, who was also making his big career moves at the time and likewise cared little about the alleged gap between art and mainstream entertainment.
From Schwabing to JapanAnd it was Eichinger who in 1988 produced her romantic comedy Me and Him (Ich und Er), Dörrie’s only picture so far to be shot in the US. “Bernd wanted to make a big film, I wanted a small one. ‘You wanted Schwabing,’ he later reproached me, ‘and I wanted the world,’” says Dörrie, describing her conflict-laden collaboration with the movie mogul and her lifelong friend, who died in 2011.
After Me and Him, Dörrie did in fact eat humbler pie. In a privately and professionally rewarding relationship with cameraman Helge Weindler, she made a crime film called Happy Birthday, Türke! (1992) and a comedy about singles called Nobody Loves Me (Keiner liebt mich) (1995). But when Weindler died in 1996 whilst shooting the anthology film Am I Beautiful (Bin ich schön?), Dörrie sank into a deep depression. During this period of mourning, she began taking an interest in Zen Buddhism and meditation. Her enduring interest in Buddhism has been a mainstay of her work ever since, and parts of her subsequent films, Enlightenment Guaranteed (Erleuchtung garantiert, 2000), The Fisherman and His Wife (Der Fischer und seine Frau, 2005) and Cherry Blossoms (Kirschblüten – Hanami, 2008), were shot in Japan.
Taking notes on the age we live in
What exactly is it that makes Dörrie’s films unmistakable even when they’re about very different subjects? It’s an unerring eye and ear for people and their everyday lives, enriched by empathy and mischievous humour. Dörrie is a chronicler of the present, a patient “collector” who, with her ever-present notebook in hand, sets out to map changing middle-class consciousness in all its sad, comical, even grotesque facets. Her romantic comedy Naked (Nackt, 2002), for example, is an hysterical send-up of three young Berlin couples grappling with the contradictions between seekingstatus and the search for happiness and the meaning of life. “I’m crazy about the ambivalences of life and have always had the feeling there’s a comical element in tragic situations, and vice versa,” explains the director.
She delights in entangling her characters in bewildering situations in which they have no choice but to reinvent themselves. In the roadmovie Enlightenment Guaranteed (Erleuchtung garantiert), two men find themselves stranded in a Buddhist monastery in Japan, where they are confronted with the lies they’ve been living. In Cherry Blossoms, one of her most celebrated films, the protagonist travels to Japan, the land his late wife had always dreamed of,and ends up “blown away” by the Land of the Rising Sun – as Dörrie describes the onset of her own fascination with Japan. In the social comedy The Hairdresser (Die Friseuse, 2010) she casts the same droll probing eye on an East Berlin plattenbau (i.e. drab prefab building typical of postwar East Germanarchitecture), in the tragicomedy All Inclusive (Alles inklusive, 2014) she homes in on the quirky details of an all-inclusive hotel complex in the Andalusian coastal resort of Torremolinos and in Que Caramba Es La Vida (Dieses schöne Scheißleben, 2014) she documents the Mariachi women of Mexico City.
From literature to the silver screen
This quasi-meditative way of observing places and characters, often interwoven with refined symbolism, is always preceded by a phase of literary incubation. This auteur, who has received all the most coveted awards for her cinematic oeuvre, is actually a writer. Except for Bliss (Glück, 2012), she’s written all her scripts herself. But it wasn’t till 1987 that she mustered the courage to start publishing her own short stories and novels, many of which, including All Included, she later adapted for the screen. As if that weren’t enough, Dörrie has now started in on a third career on the side, as an opera director. If she had to choose, however, she’d stick to writing: “The movies in your mind are something nobody can take away from you.”