German film sector tries to rebound

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2007 wasn't exactly a banner year for German cinema. Excellent German films -- see Fatih Akin's "The Edge of Heaven," Christian Petzold's "Yella" or Chris Kraus' "Four Minutes" -- were rare and boxoffice hits even rarer. But, fingers crossed, 2008 could make up for all that.

German multihyphenate Til Schweiger got the film year hopping with his latest, the romantic comedy "Keinohrhasen." The crowd pleaser, which stars Schweiger alongside up-and-comer Nora Tschirner, already has sold some 4 million tickets in Germany and seems to still have legs.

Also keeping it light is "Melodies of Spring" (right) from Martin Walz. Another romantic comedy, Walz's film adds a musical twist, having its characters belt out German pop songs to express their deepest longings.

"Melodies" has hit a high note with its cast, above all with Alexandra Neldel, a superstar in Germany thanks to her breakthrough performance in the local version of the telenovela "Ugly Betty."

Don't expect anyone to leave the cinema singing after watching Uli Edel's "The Baader Meinhof Complex." The latest from uber-producer Bernd Eichinger, about the notorious -- and hugely popular -- left-wing terrorist group the R.A.F., already is the most controversial German film of the year. The Eichinger brand, plus a who's who of German A-listers, including Moritz Bleibtreu, Martina Gedeck, Johanna Wokalek, Nadja Uhl and Bruno Ganz, guarantees the "Baader Meinhof" reign of terror will extend far beyond Germany's borders.

Tom Tykwer proved he could handle a big budget with Eichinger's last production, "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer." Now the "Run Lola Run" director is finally going Hollywood with the Columbia Pictures' release "The International." The espionage thriller, starring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts, is poised to be Tykwer's boxoffice breakthrough in the U.S.

Florian Gallenberger's "John Rabe" (pictured top) is shooting on a smaller budget than "The International" but is no less ambitious. The true story of a German businessman who saved 200,000 Chinese civilians during the Japanese army massacre in Nanjing in the 1930s, "Rabe" features Ulrich Tukur ("The Lives of Others") as part of an impressive cast that includes Steve Buscemi and Daniel Bruhl.

Bruhl also stars in "Krabat," from director Marco Kreuzpaintner ("Trade"). The story, adapted from the 1971 bestseller by Otfried Preussler, reads like a satanic "Harry Potter." In the book, 14-year-old orphan Krabat (rising star David Kross) becomes apprenticed to a evil sorcerer who has a pact with Death himself. "Krabat" went through years of development hell before Kreuzpaintner came on board, but early footage suggests the film could be that rare species -- an intelligent, exciting teen film.

As this quick highlight reel suggests, the ambition and range of German cinema this year is worlds away from the tepid offerings of 2007. German film fans depressed by the slim pickings at the 2008 Berlinale -- with just two German titles in competition -- needn't worry. The best is yet to come.

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