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Berlin Falling, a low-budget indie thriller about a terrorist attack in Germany, has opened in the top 10 on the German box-office charts on its first day of release.
The debut feature from actor turned director Ken Duken grossed $24,000 across 136 theaters on Thursday, enough to squeeze into the top 10, just behind Marc Webb’s Gifted, starring Chris Evans and Lindsay Duncan.
Warner Bros. Germany and independent distributor NFP are giving Berlin Falling a rare limited release this weekend and will decide based on the results whether to extend the film’s theatrical run. The movie was bankrolled by German pay TV group Sky and will air on one of its channels later this year.
Warner Bros. is perhaps understandably nervous about the public reception of the film given its subject matter. In the movie, a terrorist, played by Game of Thrones star Tom Wlaschiha, hijacks a car and forces the driver to take him to Berlin where, in the middle of Christmas celebrations, he plans to carry out a brutal attack. The scenario is eerily close to the real-life attack in Berlin on Dec. 19, when a terrorist hijacked a truck and drove into the crowd at a Berlin Christmas Market, killing 12 people.
Wlaschiha and director Duken, who also plays the blackmailed driver, are keen to downplay the synchronicity.
“This isn’t the film of the attack,” Wlaschiha tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It really has no connection to those horrible events.”
Duken actually came up with the idea for the film back in 2015 inspired, he says, by the reaction to the Greek economic crisis in Germany.
“There was a growing atmosphere of fear and hysteria that left a bad taste in my mouth,” Duken says. “I started to develop the idea with (screenwriters) Christoph Mille and Norbert Kneissl when Charlie Hebdo happened. Then, just before we began filming, there was the second attack in Paris, at the Bataclan. The subject matter, our fiction, started looking more and more like reality. We had to really ask ourselves if we should even make the film. The general consensus was that we should make it now more than ever.”
For Wlaschiha, the role of the terrorist Andreas is miles away from the cool, philosophical Jaqen H’ghar, the monk cum assassin he plays in Game of Thrones. Andreas is a tightly wound, manipulative psychopath whose true motives remain a secret until the film’s go-for-broke final reel.
Since getting his big break with GOT, Wlaschiha has worked mainly on English-language projects with supporting roles in Ron Howard’s Rush and Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner. He has played Berlin police detective Sebastian Berger in the European crime series Crossing Lines, which co-starred Donald Sutherland and William Fichtner and ran for three seasons on Netflix. But when Duken sent him the script to Berlin Falling, Wlaschiha said he was “excited straight away because I hadn’t seen anything like this in German film. This isn’t a movie that aim to please — it aims to shake you up.”
The reviews for Berlin Falling have been mixed. “A gripping thriller with a political core,” raved online review site Spielfilm.de, while Kino-Zeit.de panned Duken’s directorial debut as “a fall from a great height.” The director’s favorite review came from Antje Wessels of Filmstarts.de, who opened her critique with the line: “Ken Duken has balls!”
“It was so hard not forwarding that to all my friends,” Duken jokes. “But good or bad, none of the reviews have been indifferent. People are arguing about the movie, which is exactly what I’d hoped for.”
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