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Berlin films deliver diversity, box office

Berlin Film Festival 2013

German cinema will again bask in the spotlight at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, which is showcasing the latest works by veteran helmers and up-and-coming filmmakers, but the country’s booming industry has plenty more to offer beyond the Berlinale.

This year’s local releases promise an eclectic mix that includes epic Westerns, horror, romance and sex plus gay, lesbian and bisexual drama, psychological thrillers and screwball comedy.

Local films got off to a strong start in January with the release of Matthias Schweighoefer’s latest laffer, “Schlussmacher” (Break-Up Man). The pic, about a guy who specializes in helping couples break up, opened at No. 1 with $4.7 million and dethroned “The Hobbit” after its four-week reign at the top of the box office charts.

“The movie has completely fulfilled our highest expectations,” says Vincent de La Tour, managing director of Twentieth Century Fox of Germany, pointing out that “Break-Up Man” had the most successful opening for a German film after Til Schweiger’s 2011 family comedy “Kokowaah,” which had a huge $8.5 million bow.

The Fox release is the second film directed by the popular multi-hyphenate Schweighoefer, who wrote, directed and starred in the 2011 hit “What a Man,” which garnered some $16.8 million at the box office.

“Schlussmacher’s” success underscores Fox’s local production strategy, which focuses on homegrown commercial product.

“We make what we think can be commercial,” says Sanford Panitch, president of Fox Intl. Prods. “In the case of German-language films, if Marco (Mehlitz, head of development and production at Fox Intl. Prods. Germany) is excited about something, and Vincent (de La Tour) thinks it’s worth doing, we get behind it. … In Germany, comedies seem to be having a great success and so that’s a great place for us to try to be as well. ”

Comedy does seem to be Koenig in Germany and Warner Bros. is expecting boffo box office from Schweiger’s upcoming “Kokowaah 2,” which also stars Schweighoefer.

Constantin Film is targeting as many quadrants as possible with its well-rounded lineup of local films, among them Sherry Hormann’s “3096.”

Based on the last script written by the late Bernd Eichinger, the fact-based, English-language pic about Natascha Kampusch, the Austrian girl who was kidnapped and held hostage in a basement for more than eight years, stars Irish actress Antonia Campbell-Hughes (“Albert Nobbs”) and Danish thesp Thure Lindhardt (“Keep the Lights On”).

Other high-profile Constantin titles include “Ostwind,” Katja von Garnier’s family film about a teenage girl who befriends a wild stallion; Soenke Wortmann’s adaptation of “Wrecked,” Charlotte Roche’s taboo-breaking novel about sex, marriage and death; and Bora Dagtekin’s high school comedy “Fack ju Goehte.”

“There is a strong demand by the German audience to see local titles — and strategically we are always trying to cover as many target groups as possible with our slate,” says Martin Moszkowicz, Constantin’s head of film and TV.

Concorde Film, which struck gold with the “Twilight” franchise, is hoping to meet further demand for teen fantasy with “Ruby Red,” about a 16-year-old girl who discovers the ability to time travel, finds romance and becomes ensnared in a generations-old conspiracy.

This year’s Berlin Film Festival is likewise presenting a broad selection of German cinema.

The main competition section includes Thomas Arslan’s “Gold,” a Western drama about a woman who joins a group of fellow German immigrants on a journey from New York to Canada’s Yukon territory in 1898 in the hope of striking it rich during the Klondike Gold Rush. Nina Hoss (“Barbara”) toplines the $2.7 million Schramm Film production, entirely financed out of Germany.

Sexual fluidity and same-sex rights, meanwhile, are examined in two films unspooling in the Berlinale’s Perspektive Deutsches Kino German film sidebar.

In Stephan Lacant’s “Free Fall,” a young policeman and expectant father, played by Hanno Koffler, falls in love with his male colleague (Max Riemelt), while Anne Zohra Berrached’s “Two Mothers” follows a lesbian couple whose plans to start a family are hindered by an uphill struggle to find a sperm bank that offers services to same-sex couples.

The dark side of Berlin’s club scene is the focus of Stefan Westerwelle’s Panorama section title “Lose Your Head,” a psychological thriller about a young Spanish tourist whose holiday turns into a desperate chase through the city.

This year’s strong and diverse showing could mean a sizeable improvement at the box office for German films, which saw market share drop from 18.9% in 2011 to just 13.7% in 2012 — its lowest level in years.

BERLIN FILM FESTIVAL 2013
Streaming brings boost to Berlin | Berlin films deliver diversity, box office | Lanzmann’s films bear witness for the future | Kosslick opens doors to global talent | New blood keeps EFM healthy | Big-name auteurs pepper Berlin lineup | Nonfiction payoff is for real | Germany remains a fav for co-productions

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