Nation celebrates foreign-language nod

BERLIN — Germans woke up Monday to the news that “The Lives of Others” had won the foreign-language Oscar — the second time a Teutonic pic has taken the honor in five years.

It remained the top story all day, with everyone from political leaders to industryites praising helmer Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s debut pic about the totalitarian powers once wielded by East Germany’s Stasi security police.

Win crowns a strong recent run for German films: In 2002 “Nowhere in Africa” won the Oscar for helmer Caroline Link, who went to the same Munich film school as von Donnersmarck; “Downfall” was nominated in 2004 and “Sophie Scholl: The Final Days” in 2005. “It’s a great joy for me to see that German films are able to compete with the best in the world,” von Donnersmarck, 33, said in one of a dozen interviews beamed from Hollywood to Germany.

Von Donnersmarck spent five years working on the film and the script but filmed it in just 38 days on a budget of e1.8 million ($2.4 million). 

“It is an indescribable joy to see a German story like this strike such a chord with audiences in the United States, of all places,” said Gerhard Fuchs, president of the Munich HFF film school where von Donnersmarck made “The Lives of Others” as his graduation project.

It represented another milestone for German film, which grabbed a record 26% of the domestic market in 2006 and had three of the year’s top-grossing films locally. “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer,” “7 Dwarves — The Wood Is Not Enough” and soccer World Cup docu “Germany: A Summer Fairytale” each spent about a month on the top of the chart, with a cumulative box office of more than $120 million.

“It’s a fantastic validation of authentic storytelling made in Germany,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany and has an intimate understanding of the now-defunct Stasi’s ominous powers. “It had the quality to stand up to Hollywood,” she added.

“I think it’s tremendous that a film about such a difficult subject wins a great honor like this,” said Culture Minister Bernd Neumann of the film that took $14 million at the German box office and has been sold to more than 30 countries — most of the world’s major territories with the exception of China. “It’s all the more impressive because a low-budget film like this was able to stand up to what I thought was especially strong competition this year.”

Pic, which also won seven German film Lolas and three European Film Awards, has had a strong run in France and Denmark. It bowed in the U.S. on Feb. 9 and sold more than 130,000 tickets in its first week.

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