German Filmmaking Takes Commercial Turn

After a long period of introspective arthouse pix that grew less and less popular, German filmers are turning more than ever to projects with commercial potential.

“You can see the difference when you look at the film schools,” says Heinz Badewitz, in charge of this year’s New German Cinema section at the Berlinale. “The new batch of grads want to tell stories people want to see. I don’t know any who want to make films just for themselves anymore.”

This year’s section (open to accredited festgoers only) offers international buyers a selection of the best German productions of last year.

The best example of the new B.O. consciousness is Soenke Wortmann’s “Der bewegte Mann,” the gay-themed love-triangle comedy still topping the local charts with nearly 5 million admissions to date – just this side of “The Flintstones.” Treading in its footsteps is helmer Doris Doerrie’s new romantic comedy, “Nobody Loves Me,” just released, which some critics have dubbed her best film since “Men.”

Of the 26 films selected for this year’s section, 11 have made a prominent showing in German cinemas and the rest gained critical nods at festivals. For Germany, that kind of ratio is something to be proud of.

“Germany has no film industry in the Hollywood sense,” says Badewitz. “People complain only about half of the 100 films produced here each year get into the cinemas, and only two or three of those make a profit.

“But in 1993,570 films were shot in the U.S. and only 125 of those got into the cinemas. So the ratio is similar.”

One of last year’s hits was another romantic comedy, Sherry Hormann’s “Women Are Simply Wonderful,” featuring a trio of young German stars. And the star of Doris Doerrie’s “Nobody Loves Me,” Maria Schrader, also stars in the femme road-thriller “Burning Life.”

Last year also saw the unusual cat thriller “Felidae” and the Asterix film “Asterix Conquers America,” both animated items of international quality. “We were astonished when we saw the standard of the selection,” says Badewitz.

He adds, “It may be that German films have to fill a niche to be successful. We sometimes have to make films that aren’t being made elsewhere.”

Two oddball films which got a lot of attention are the no-budget off-the-wall comedy “Rotwang” by Hans-Christoph Blumenberg, and the critically acclaimed “Goodbye America” by Jan Schuette.

Top arthouse title was the handsomely-lensed, big-budget Thomas Mann adaptation, “Mario and the Magician,” directed by and starring Klaus Maria Brandauer. “I think ‘Mario’ could have a chance internationally, even though it didn’t do too well in Germany,” opines Badewitz.

Other films to watch out for include the glossy, big-budget thriller “The Victor.” Says Badewitz, “It wasn’t a great success here, but it’s one of the most perfect German movies in recent years.”

So far, it looks like 1995 will match last year in quality pix due down the pike. Joseph Vilsmaier (“Stalingrad”) has just finished shooting the big-budget Alpine drama, “Schlafe’s Brother,” about a genius composer in a tragic love affair. Two toons are also due: “Werner-Der Metulisator,” the long-awaited sequel to the local smash hit “Werner – Beinhart,” the pic version of the popular underground comic, and “Castle of Apes,” a German-French co-prod best described as “The Lion King” with a shot of sarcasm.

Blumenberg is working on a sequel to “Rotwang” titled “Next Kiss I’ll Plug Him.” And nearly 10 years after his smash hit “Mueller’s Office,” Niki List has another parody thriller, “Heroes in the Tyrol.”

Uli Edel (“Body of Evidence”) will soon lens his Berlin thriller, “Out of Darkness,” and also in Berlin, Dani Levy is to shoot the erotic drama “Silent Night,” toplining Doerrie’s thesp, Maria Schrader.

Two co-prods should be noted: Hal Hartley is to make his next film, “Flirt,” in Germany with Pandora Prods., and Mark Peploe recently finished shooting the Joseph Conrad novel “Victory,” with Willem Dafoe and Sam Neill, at Babelsberg Studios outside Berlin.

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