Gansel, Constantin remake 1981 ABC movie

BERLIN — The millions of Teutons who thought “it could never happen again here” found the complacent notion that their country was somehow immune to another Nazi-style dictatorship shattered by Dennis Gansel’s chilling drama “Die Welle” (The Wave), which opened at No. 1 in Germany a week ago.

Pic, which got a lift from screening at Sundance, has been the talk of the nation for exploring the question: Could Germany ever again fall under the spell of a dictatorship?

It knocked “Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!” off the top rung with a $3,271,602 opening bow (303,784 admissions) from a modest 279 screens — and pulled in a further $1.1 million on March 17-18.

The Constantin Film pic, a remake of a 1981 ABC movie about a high school experiment that goes awry, turning a political science class into a group of neo-Brownshirts and its charismatic teacher into a modern-day Fuhrer, scored an excellent per-location average of $11,726. Fox’s “Horton” came in a close second with $3,269,129, but from a much higher print count of 809.

 “I read the book in high school, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since,” Gansel says. “Germans like to think that their intensive study of the horrors of the Third Reich makes them immune to another dictatorship. Even though we’ve learned so much about the Nazi era, it’s a mistake to say something like that could never happen again here. It could happen anywhere. It’s nonsense to say we’re immune.”

Pic is set in contemporary Germany and was adapted from a novel written by Morton Rhue about a real 1967 experiment in a Palo Alto, Calif., high school. The book is required reading in German schools.

“It seems that simple question I’d always been asking myself — could it happen here again? — has touched a nerve,” said Gansel, 34, adding he was pleasantly surprised by the strong opening; another 103 prints were added March 20.

“There’s also a lot going on in the world that makes people wonder and worry about a dictatorship taking over somewhere else again. Just look at what happened in the United States after 9/11, how things developed there and how much of the media seemed to change with it. But also in China and Russia there are authoritarian governments. The peaceful era is over. We thought that democracy was safe forever. It’s not. That false sense of security is gone. A dictatorship could emerge anywhere faster than anyone thought possible.”

Pic, made for $7 million and starring Juergen Vogel as the charismatic teacher, was sold to 20 territories after screening at Sundance. At a standing-room-only screening on the fringes of the Berlin Film Festival in February, more than 1,400 crowded into the headquarters of the Social Democrat Party to see it — three times as many as had been expected.

“Group dynamics can be seen everywhere,” Gansel says. “Even if you put 50 actors in a room, it won’t take long for different groups to form. Most of the time they’re benign. But put someone charismatic in there with sinister intentions and anything is possible.”

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