German producers are discovering new frontiers in the literary world — a fact underscored by the many book adaptations heading to the bigscreen.
From murder mysteries set against the backdrop of quantum physics to time-traveling teens, ancient Persian medicine and the second coming of Jesus, they’re all making the leap from bestselling tomes to the film reel.
Director Doris Doerrie discovered a love story hidden in the pages of a short tale by bestselling author and Berlin defense attorney Ferdinand von Schirach.
“Bliss,” which premieres at the Berlinale, follows a young prostitute and her punk boyfriend whose lives are turned upside down when a client dies in her flat.
Although part of von Schirach’s anthology “Verbrechen” (Crime), “Bliss” “is not actually a major criminal case, but rather a great love story,” says Doerrie, who also penned the script.
“Ferdinand von Schirach doesn’t describe this love story. He depicts the crime, which in the end is not really a big crime at all. There was a lot of room there for me to describe this story between the couple and how far someone will go for love.”
Produced by Constantin Film’s Oliver Berben, “Bliss” stars Alba Rohrwacher, Vinzenz Kiefer and Matthias Brandt. Constantin is releasing the pic on Feb. 23.
“The positive aspect of literary adaptations is that you have a certain number of moviegoers who are interested because they’ve already read the book, and you also have the name recognition,” says producer Manuela Stehr of Berlin-based X Filme. Stehr produced Claudia Lehmann’s upcoming thriller “Schilf,” based on Juli Zeh’s 2007 novel (published in the U.S. as “In Free Fall”) and starring Mark Waschke (“Summer Window”) and Stipe Erceg. The story follows a physicist researching parallel universes who is blackmailed into murdering a man when his young son is kidnapped.
X Filme producer Stefan Arndt says novels offer ideal material to filmmakers looking for grand ideas and epic stories.
“We have to ask ourselves, ‘What do people want to see? Why do people go to the cinema?’ You are always looking for that outstanding, original masterpiece. You want to be 100% convinced when you decide to produce a film.”
Discovering that unique element that makes a film truly original is increasingly harder, and that’s a problem for filmmakers, Arndt says. “You find it more frequently among people who have developed a story and spent five to 10 years working on it — namely the novelist.”
“”Schilf” is a case in point: The theory of “parallel universes is a huge subject but it’s something you hardly see in film,” says Arndt. “And in ‘Schilf,’ it’s all real, it’s a presentation of today’s actual research.”
“Schilf” is one of a number of high-profile book adaptations at X Filme — the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer are editing “Cloud Atlas,” based on David Mitchell’s novel that boasts a star-studded cast including Tom Hanks and Halle Berry.
Arndt is also re-teaming with director Wolfgang Becker and actor Daniel Bruehl, the guys behind the 2003 cult hit “Goodbye, Lenin!,” on “Ich und Kaminski” (Me and Kaminski), an adaptation of bestselling author Daniel Kehlmann’s 2003 novel about a shameless and opportunistic young art critic who sets out to write a biography of an enigmatic painter in his quest for fortune and glory.
Kehlmann, a literary darling and one of Europe’s most acclaimed young writers, continues to inspire filmmakers with his works. The author penned the script for the adaptation of his historical novel “Measuring the World,” the most successful German book since Patrick Sueskind’s “Perfume” two decades ago.
Kehlmann describes the film by director Detlev Buck as a “standalone version, which is very close in spirit to the book.”
One of the biggest German films this year, the ambitious €11 million ($14 million) 3D production revolves around 19th century scientists Carl Friedrich Gauss and Alexander von Humboldt, both of whom measured the world in very different ways. Up-and-coming thesps Florian David Fitz and Albrecht Schuch star in the comedy, which is filming in Ecuador.
“Ruhm” (Fame), another Kehlmann bestseller, was the basis for Isabel Kleefeld’s new film. Produced by Little Shark Entertainment’s Tom Spiess and Terz Filmproduktion’s Christoph Friedel, “Ruhm” adapts six of the novel’s original nine overlapping stories that focus on fame and identity, with a cast that in cludes Justus von Dohnanyi, Heino Ferch and Senta Berger.
A fan of Kehlmann, Kleefeld was eager to adapt one of the author’s books for the bigscreen. “The novel is peppered with techniques of cinematic narrative, the way references are made, the method of omission,” she says. “The story is told in a very compressed way.”
Arndt adds that Kehlmann “has a new language, a new way to tell stories. All of his books are absolutely unique. ‘Kaminski and Me’ is about art. The film Detlev Buck is making is very much about the natural sciences. They are big themes.”
“Measuring the World” star Fitz, meanwhile, is going from playing Gauss to a born-again Jesus in another bestseller adaptation.
The young multihyphenate, who picked up last year’s German Film Award for lead actor for the hit drama “Vincent Wants to Sea” (which he also penned), makes his directorial debut with “Jesus Loves Me” from a script he wrote based on David Safier’s hit tome. Produced by UFA Cinema, the romantic comedy revolves around a jaded young woman who falls for a handsome and mysterious carpenter — only to discover he’s the returning Messiah.
UFA has also tapped Philipp Stoelzl, who directed the Nazi-era mountain-climbing drama “North Face” and last year’s hit historical romance “Young Goethe in Love,” to helm the historical epic “The Physician,” based on Noah Gordon’s bestseller. The story follows an 11th century Englishman who travels to Persia and disguises himself as a Jew in order to study medicine at the Islamic school of physicians in Isphahan.
UFA topper and producer Wolf Bauer says “The Physician” will be “in the tradition of grand European productions such as ‘The House of Spirits,’ ‘The Name of the Rose’ and ‘Pope Joan.’ ”
Meanwhile, Felix Fuchssteiner is bringing “Rubinrot” (Ruby Red) — the first novel in Kerstin Gier’s bestselling romantic fantasy trilogy — to the bigscreen. The story centers on 16-year-old Gwyneth (played by Maria Ehrich), a London girl from a family of time-travelers who is unexpectedly transported to the 18th century, where she meets and falls for Gideon (Jannis Niewoehner), a captivating fellow time-traveler. Fuchssteiner’s Berlin-based Mem-Film, Geissendoerfer Film in Cologne and Munich’s Lieblingsfilm are co-producing with Concorde Film distributing.
For most filmmakers, adapting a book is just that, an adaptation, with a film very much an independent work.
“The task of a film adaptation is not to remain as close to the book as possible,” says Berben. “That’s a mistake. The task is to maintain the same spirit, the same content and the same feeling — in a completely different medium.”