Germans at AFM: The New Kaisers of Comedy

Germany’s laffers are suddenly hot at the box office

While German cinema is often characterized abroad by austere arthouse films and historical dramas, it’s comedies that have set this year’s box office on fire.

Constantin Film is behind two of the country’s biggest current comedy hits, David Wnendt’s Adolf Hitler satire “Er ist wieder da” (Look Who’s Back) and Bora Dagtekin’s high school laffer “Fack ju Goehte 2.”

“Look Who’s Back” (pictured), from Constantin and Mythos Film, garnered nearly $12.5 million in its first three weeks and continues to top the charts in Germany. Based on Timur Vermes’ bestseller and sold internationally by Beta Cinema, the film follows Hitler after he suddenly wakes up in the present day — he’s mistaken for an ingenious comedian, becomes a media sensation and gains a huge following.

In making the film, Wnendt sent the main character out into the public and shot segments in documentary style in order to show him loose among real people. The director stresses that he did that only to “get an answer to the question: What would happen if Hitler was here today? Would he really still have a chance?”

Exec producer Oliver Berben of Constantin says the aim was to make a film “that holds a mirror to our society in an entertaining manner.”

Clearly, though, making a comedy about Hitler can be risky. Wnendt says, “It’s important that the film does not make fun of Hitler’s atrocities or his victims, but I think it’s right in principle to laugh at the person Adolf Hitler.”

While less satirical, the broader comedy of “Fack ju Goehte 2,” the sequel to the massive 2013 hit that sold in more than 30 countries, has helped make it the most successful German film of the year and the second biggest domestic moneymaker of all time, earning more than $64.5 million at the box office. The pic continues the story of a young ex-con who becomes a high school teacher in charge of a rowdy class of underachievers.

Berlin-based Picture Tree Intl., which is debuting the film at AFM, has already scored sales throughout Eastern Europe and Russia. Picture Tree’s Andreas Rothbauer says unlike some German comedies of the past, which didn’t travel well, the “Fack ju Goehte” films appeal to a broader swath of international viewers. “It’s not that German — not like other German comedies. It’s more of a generic screwball comedy, a bit like ‘Bad Teacher.’ ”

Moritz Hemminger, director of sales and acquisitions at Arri Media, sees growing international interest for certain types of German comedies, such as Aron Lehmann’s “Highway to Hellas,” which nabbed the audience award at the recent Busan Film Festival. The timely pic centers on a German banker whose loyalties are tested when he travels to a Greek island to investigate a suspicious loan agreement. The film “is cinematic proof that Germans actually can be funny on the big screen,” Hemminger quips.

The Greek financial crisis also serves as the backdrop for another Arri title, Christian Zubert’s drama “One Breath,” about a Greek woman who flees economic turmoil at home and finds employment with a young couple in Germany.

Two other Arri features promise more commercial appeal, with blood and bullets galore in “Absolution,” about a hitman on his final assignment in Berlin, and family-friendly hijinks in “Help, I Shrunk My Teacher,” about a boy who inadvertently shrinks his school principal.

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