In Germany, art imitates scandals

Neo-Nazi, presidental to-dos parallel films

BERLIN — Two newly released films, “Combat Girls” and “Zettl,” deal with elements of two scandals enveloping Germany, but those scandals are threatening to overshadow the fictional works on the bigscreen.

David Wnendt’s award-winning feature film debut, “Combat Girls,” about a young woman trying to break free of an ultraviolent gang of neo-Nazis, opened last month amid headlines of a group of neo-Nazis, allegedly responsible for the murders of 10 people, having eluded police for more than a decade. The alleged founders of the Nationalist Socialist Underground group, Uwe Boehnhardt and Uwe Mundlos, died in an apparent murder-suicide in November. A third suspected member, Beate Zschaepe, turned herself in shortly afterward. The media has been closely following the ongoing investigation.

Germany’s domestic intelligence agency is under fire from the media for its failure to uncover the real-life neo-Nazi cell — indeed, one official has been sacked.

The wall-to-wall coverage of the story was worrisome at first, says Ralph Dietrich, CEO of Ascot Elite, which is distributing “Combat Girls” in Germany. “While we were prepping the press and marketing, we were actually scared that people would say, ‘Oh, no, not again.’ There was so much on TV on a daily basis that we thought people would just be fed up and not go see the movie, but it was the contrary. The press screenings were packed.”

The news has made the film a must-see for school classes across the country, and the release has been accompanied by a well-coordinated campaign with a number of anti-racist and anti-Nazi organizations. Most of the reviews have focused on the film and not the headlines, and the pic has won local prizes for actress Alina Levshin and Wnendt. “Combat Girls” has taken in €263,759 ($347,180) from 57 locations since its Jan. 19 bow, when it opened in third place on Germany’s arthouse charts, behind French hit “Intouchables” and “Carnage,” but ahead of “J. Edgar.”

Also dominating the headlines has been the growing scandal engulfing German President Christian Wulff, initially triggered by a $660,070 loan he received from a wealthy businessman; a series of gaffes and missteps, including what amounts to Wulff’s declaration of war on the country’s leading tabloid newspaper, has not only left his reputation and approval ratings in tatters, but also has resulted in the first-ever police raid on the presidential office.

Meanwhile, “Zettl,” which bowed Feb. 2, is the satirical story of an ambitious and unscrupulous chauffeur who becomes the editor-in-chief of an online tabloid publication and uncovers a political cover-up involving a dead German chancellor.

The woes of real-life President Wulff may have taken some of the irony out of Dietl’s film.

“If you were to present the pseudo-political goings-on taking place here at the moment in a film, no one would believe it,” Dietl says.

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