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Homegrown German Films Make Global Showing

While German-language films screening at this year’s Cannes Film Festival are scant in number, German talent and market titles nevertheless offer a glimpse of current and upcoming productions, ranging in subject matter from prehistoric adventure and Nazi-era intrigue to modern day terrorism and romance in the face of sorrow.

This year’s crop of local productions follows a standout year for German films, which not only made an impressive showing on the international festival circuit but also at both the domestic and international box office. Maren Ade’s Oscar-nominated “Toni Erdmann,” a bittersweet comedy about an aging father trying to reconnect with his distant, workaholic daughter, enjoyed a stellar year, winning a slew of international prizes, including five European Film Awards, sweeping this year’s German Film Awards, and leading to Ade’s selection for this year’s Cannes competition jury.

Domestically, the refugee crisis was the focus of last year’s biggest German hit, “Willkommen bei den Hartmanns,” about a family that takes in a Nigerian immigrant. The film earned nearly $32.7 million at the box office. The topic is also highlighted in “Bibi & Tina: Perfect Pandemonium,” Detlev Buck’s latest installment in his hugely successful franchise about a teen witch, who this time around helps an Albanian girl escape a forced marriage; the pic has so far pulled in some $11.2 million.

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In Cannes, a number of leading actors of recent and upcoming films will be front and center as part of a high-profile campaign by promotional org German Films. The “Face to Face With German Films” initiative introduces six hardworking actors, following its launch last year at the London Film Festival with six leading actresses. The program aims to promote a new wave of German cinema to international audiences.

The actors include Louis Hofmann, who starred in the Oscar-nominated “Land of Mine” and currently appears in the local box-office hit “Lommbock” as well as Amazon’s “You Are Wanted.” He next toplines “Dark,” Netflix’s first German-language series. Also in the mix is Jannis Niewöhner, who starred in the hit “Ruby Red” fantasy trilogy. He won this year’s Bavarian Film Prize for young actor for Piotr J. Lewandowski’s award-winning drama “Jonathan,” as well as for his role in Alain Gsponer’s upcoming “Youth Without God.” Also included: Alexander Fehling, who appeared in “Inglourious Basterds” and Guilio Ricciarelli’s “Labyrinth of Lies,” for which he won the Bavaria Film Award for actor, and starred in season five of Showtime’s “Homeland.” Next up for him is Jan Zabeil’s “Three Peaks.”

Other actors showcased include Ronald Zehrfeld, who has starred in such films as “Inbetween Worlds,” about a German military unit in Afghanistan, and Christian Petzold’s award-winning historical dramas “Barbara” and “Phoenix.” He also appears in BBC’s “SS-GB” and is shooting Lars Kraume’s “Das schweigende Klassenzimmer.” Tom Schilling, whose recent films include “Woman in Gold,” with Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds, and the award-winning miniseries “Generation War” is also in the mix. He next toplines Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s historical drama “Werk ohne autor.”

Rounding out the group is Volker Bruch, who has just completed work on the highly anticipated historical miniseries “Babylon Berlin,” which premieres this fall on Sky, and also appears in “Generation War.” He will next be seen in Cédric Jimenez’s upcoming WWII drama “The Man With the Iron Heart” with Jack Reynor and Jack O’Connell.

“The aim of the campaign is to put a more personal spotlight on German film,” says Mariette Rissenbeek, managing director of German Films. She adds that the initiative was established as a tool to promote upcoming films that will be “seen at the bigger international film festivals or in cinemas abroad in the next few months. Through the campaign we put a spotlight on the most promising faces in this context, as we do expect a number of their films to premiere in Karlovy Vary, Locarno, Venice, Toronto and San Sebastian.”
Rissenbeek says the initiative may also help the actors broaden their careers internationally, but that is not its initial purpose.

As for Cannes competition, Fatih Akin’s terrorist attack drama “In the Fade” is the only German-language film in the main section, although there are five German co-productions vying for the Palme d’Or, including Michael Haneke’s French-language “Happy End,” Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Russian drama “Loveless” and Kornél Mundruczó’s Hungarian drama “Jupiter’s Moon.”

Among the German pics at the Cannes Market are Picture Tree Intl.’s “Four Against the Bank,” Wolfgang Petersen’s heist comedy starring Til Schweiger and Matthias Schweighöfer. Schweiger and Schweighöfer team up again in the upcoming gangster comedy “Hot Dog.” Picture Tree is also handling sales for “Killing Stella,” which reteams director Julian Pölsler and actress Martina Gedeck for another adaptation of a novel by Marlen Haushofer following their 2012 hit “The Wall.”

Beta Cinema presents “Iceman,” Felix Randau’s prehistoric adventure inspired by Ötzi, the mummified man found in 1991 in the Ötztal Alps between Austria and Italy. Jürgen Vogel portrays the ill-fated hunter in a tale of revenge set in a bygone era. In “Text for You,” the directorial debut of actress Karoline Herfurth, a woman sends messages to her late boyfriend and inadvertently contacts a stranger, while in Claus Räfle’s “The Invisibles,” four young Jews try to survive the Third Reich.

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