Following the blistering success of the German comedy “Der Bewegte Mann,” the national pipeline is crowded with new laugh-along projects, as Teutonic helmers seek to recapture their home crowd from Hollywood.
“Der Bewegte Mann” is now the third most successful German film since 1980, having grossed $40 million at the box office in 10 months. The Soenke Wortmann-helmed comedy, which stars new German heartthrob Til Schweiger, bounces a skirt-chasing boyfriend between his distraught girlfriend and a cohort of mostly benevolent homosexuals.
Though “Mann” (English version: “The Most Desired Man”) has not been picked up for distribution in the key English-speaking markets – an offer from a U.S. distrib was recently rejected – the film’s success has rekindled hope that Germans can produce films their own audiences want to see.
“The enormous success of ‘Der Bewegte Mann’ has strenthened the self-confidence of the industry,” said Klaus Keil, director of the Film Board of Berlin & Brandenburg, Germany’s second-biggest state subsidy office.
“In the recent past, German films didn’t really have anything to laugh about,” Keil added. “By and large, there were neither outstanding artistic nor particularly successful commercial efforts.
“Filmmakers, indifferent to the public’s desires, either wanted to portray themselves or tried to imitate Hollywood,” Keil added.
In a cursory count, Variety found 14 new comedies on the production slate, all of them inspired in one way or another by “Mann’s” box office romp.
“Mann” director Wortmann has a second comedy in the works. His “Superweib” (“Superwoman”), a housewife-battles-back laugher, is slated to debut next March.
“Mann” star Schweiger has signed for “Maennerpension,” a romantic comedy about two con men furloughed by an exuberant young warden. Comedy veteran Detlev Buck directs the pic, due out next February. Schweiger also reportedly was offered a supporting role alongside Gerard Depardieu in the Morgan Creek production “The Northmen.”
Even Studio Babelsberg has nabbed “Mann’s” exec producer and currently the hottest name in German dealmaking, Bernd Eichinger, to collaborate on “Badesalz” (“Bath Salt”). The Reinhard Kloos-produced pic, which centers on an odd couple stuck for a weekend in a freight elevator, is due out in January.
Dorris Dorrie, whose romantic comedy “Nobody Loves Me” was last year’s other big German commercial and critical success behind “Mann,” continues in the same vein with “Bin ich schoen? (“Am I Pretty?”). The film is a patchwork of romantic ups and downs, drawn from Dome’s short stories.
But even filmmakers not associated with last year’s winners are hitting the new comedy trail. Sherry Hormann, who helmed “Frauen sind was Wunderbares” (“Women Are Something Wonderful”), is set to direct another parody of male behavior, “Irren ist Mannlich” (“To Err Is Man-like”).
Similarly, Peter Timm, who has turned out mildly popular comedies about East German automobiles and race hogs, has a new project called “Die Putzfraueninsel” (“Cleaning Lady Island”).
Even Studio Duesseldorf, which has never produced a feature film before, will take the plunge with a romantic comedy. Markus Gruber’s “Weibsbilder,” in which an overly assertive career woman unwittingly drives her lover into the arms of her wallflower girlfriend, will hit German theaters next March with an ambitious 300 copies.
Though no German film has yet emerged to capture the audiences that loved “Der Bewegte Mann,” a more commercially motivated attitude is prevalent overall in the industry.
The Dorrie and Wortmann comedies took top honors at this year’s Filmpreis, which in the past typically served as a snobby solace for poor-selling arthouse films. This year, even the ceremony was a crowd-pleaser, patterned on the Oscars and broadcast live in primetime.
Those who daily sift through projects that need funding say the new attitude is palpable. “The auteur film has been somewhat buried,” said the chairman of the Film Subsidy Institute (FFA), Rolf Baehr. The period where lone intellectual artistes would wear all the hats on a filmmaking set are vanishing; and as Baehr put it, “People are recognizing that there is a need for a producer and a director and a scriptwriter.”
At the box office, “Mann’s” strong run helped German-helmed films boost their share of domestic receipts to more than 10% of last year’s DM1.23 billion ($879 million) cume, a two-point leap over the previous year, according to recently released FFA figures.
Despite that advance, German filmmakers have considerable ground to cover in winning over their own public. Of 79 German films that made it into the theaters last year, 40% of them never sold a ticket. These latter typically have cast, crew and friends screenings and then simply disappear from the moviehouse.
Already this year, German audiences have seemingly lost the enthusiasm stirred by “Mann.” Box office admissions were off nearly 9% in the first five months of this year, according to the FFA, and whereas German films held half the top 12 spots at one point last winter, they have now entirely ceded that field to Hollywood productions.
“The German market is simply too small for super-expensive productions,” said subsidy czar Keil. But, he added, “Germans also like to see German films – if they’re good.”