Finding comedy in Bavarian roots


COLOGNE, Germany -- Forty miles south of Munich, pushed up against the Alps, lies Hausham, a sleepy provincial town of 8,000 residents. It's an unlikely spot to find the next big thing, but Hausham is home and inspiration to one of Germany's hottest young directors, Marcus H. Rosenmueller.

While Rosenmueller's Munich Film School alumnus Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck traveled back to East Berlin in the 1980s for the inspiration for his Oscar-winning drama "The Lives of Others," Rosemueller stuck closer to home with his debut, the low-budget dark comedy "Grave Decisions."

"Grave Decisions" didn't appear to have much going for it. It's a family comedy about death and damnation featuring a cast of mostly unknowns and shot in the local Bavarian dialect -- a thick, guttural vernacular even other Germans find almost incomprehensible.

But with almost no publicity behind it, "Grave" became the sleeper hit of 2006, selling 1.5 million tickets for a boxoffice take of more than $12 million.

"It was almost all word-of-mouth. The distributor found it almost impossible to advertise the film, a comedy about death in rural Bavaria," Rosenmueller says. "People heard about the movie and didn't want to go see it, but as soon as people did see it, they told their friends to go."

"Grave" spent 16 weeks in the top 10, as Hollywood tentpoles like "Scary Movie 4" and "Mission: Impossible III" came and went, grossing less in the territory than this local upstart. The success was all the more surprising because many theaters outside of Bavaria initially boycotted the film, convinced that northern German audiences wouldn't get the dialect, or the humor.

"It was a really tough decision to shoot in the Bavarian dialect," Rosenmueller recalls. "We knew it would hurt us at the boxoffice. But it just seemed right, authentic. That's where I'm from and that's the source of my inspiration."

Rosenmueller stayed close to the source for his second feature, the bobsledding comedy "Heavy¬¬weights," the true story of a group of Bavarian amateurs who won Olympic gold in 1952. Released early this year, the film has so far grossed $4 million in Germany.

These twin successes have turned Rosenmueller into Germany's hardest working director. He is in postproduction on "Best Time," the first in a Bavarian coming-of-age comedy trilogy he is directing for Monaco Film. He'll shoot the second installment, "Best Place," in May before switching to social drama with "Der Raueber Kneissel," about a legendary 19th century Bavarian bandit. Then comes "Die Perlmutterfarbe," an adaptation of the 1948 children's novel by German-Jewish author Anna Maria Jokl, which Rosenmueller is writing with his "Grave" co-author Christian Lerch.

Next year Rosenmuller will direct another black comedy for "Grave" producers Roxy Film, "Von Erden und Sterben," which Rosenmueller and Lerch will write. The film will once again be set in Bavaria. "Eventually, I'll have to write something in proper German so people outside Bavaria can un¬derstand it," the director quips.