There’s nothing coy about Doris Doerrie’s exuberant “The Fisherman and His Wife,” an effervescent, candy-colored widescreen romp that wraps a Japanese fish story around the eponymous Brothers Grimm fairytale in the form of an eventful contempo romance. Covering similar visual ground as her modest Stateside arthouse hit “Enlightenment Guaranteed” but on a much larger canvas, pic’s broad comedy and heart-on-the-sleeve humanism buck most current trends yet on the strength of that difference deserves kudos at fests, in arthouse engagements and on DVD.
While backpacking around Japan, 27-year-old German fashion designer Ida (Alexandra Maria Lara) meets countrymen Otto (Christian Ulmen) and Leo (Simon Verhoeven). Known as the “Flying Fish Doctors” for their lucrative business selling Japanese koi fish to rich collectors, disheveled parasitologist Otto and the dashing Leo take the hitchhiker under their wing. In time, Otto and Ida become smitten with each other; she soon becomes pregnant and they marry in a colorful Japanese ceremony.
Back home in Munich, their relationship is anything but smooth. Never what you’d call an over-achiever, Otto watches as Ida successfully designs koi-inspired hand-knitted scarves which she sells to Mrs. Wagenbach (Carola Regnier), wife of the fish doctors’ chief patron (Elmar Wepper). Meanwhile, Leo has married Yoko (Young-Shin Kim) and opened his own fish clinic.
Things get complicated when Ida’s ambitions alienate Otto, and Yoko comes on brashly to Otto.
Narrated by a wisecracking pair of fish and punctuated by English-lingo songs that comment on the action, pic carries the irreverent subtitle “Warum frauen nie genug bekommen” — “Why Women Never Get Enough” — on the press kit but not on the print caught.
Doerrie, who has a parallel career as a successful novelist and whose previous bigscreen meditations on relationships and the slippery slopes of love include “Men…”, “Am I Beautiful?” and “Nacht” (also featuring Lara), here pulls out all the stops with a barrage of witticisms and frictions demonstrating that, as she describes it, “the woman always wants more because the man doesn’t want anything.” Unafraid to show their emotions, Doerrie’s characters grab for more life than they can possibly have.
Lara exhibits endearing charm as the increasingly empowered Ida, while Ulmen impresses as a kind of German version of Paul Giamatti. Balance of cast is fine; that’s “Enlightenment Guaranteed” co-star Gustav-Peter Woehler as a prissy landlord.
Tech credits are tops, with Rainer Klausmann’s neon-bright lensing and Katharina Ost’s out-there costumes leading the charge. Broad-ranging song choices cover everything from Hank Williams to Talking Heads.