Lolas gravitate toward boxoffice flops

'John Rabe,' 'Winter' among winners snubbed at boxoffice

'John Rabe' tops Germany's Lolas

BERLIN -- Art and commerce are often strange bedfellows, but the gap between culture and boxoffice has rarely been as wide as it was Friday night when "John Rabe" won big at the German Film Awards, taking home four Lolas.

Florian Gallenberger's film, which tells the true story of a German businessman who saved thousands from the Nanking Massacre, has all the elements of a foreign-language Academy Award contender: a historically significant true story, powerful performances (by stars Ulrich Tukur, Steve Buscemi and Daniel Bruhl) and a sweeping, epic style that screams Oscar.

But in its home territory, "John Rabe" has been a flop. Despite the star cast, a high-profile premiere at the Berlinale and major media coverage, the film did not deliver, earning just over $700,000 in three weeks.

It's a similar story for the other Lola winners. "A Year Ago in Winter," from Caroline Link, won the runner-up Silver Lola for best film but has been snubbed by German audiences, earning about $2 million. Best documentary winner "NoBody's Perfect," from Niko von Glasow, brought in just $28,000 at the German boxoffice, while this year's best children's Film, Julia von Heinz's "Nothing Else Matters," earned a measly $4,100.

Ironically, the most successful of this year's Lola nominees, Uli Edel's "The Baader Meinhof Complex," which has earned about $23 million at the boxoffice here, was snubbed by the German Film Academy and went home empty-handed.

"John Rabe" and the other Lola winners may hope in vain for a Lola bump. Germany's top film honor comes with substantial prize money but historically has had little effect on a film's performance in Germany.

But "Rabe" can take heart from the lesson of a past Lola winner: Stefan Ruzowitzky's "The Counterfeiters."

German audiences turned their noses up at the Holocaust drama, which made less than half a million dollars in its initial release. The German Film Academy, however, gave Devid Striesow a Lola for his performance as a Jewish counterfeiter forced to forge currency for the Nazi war machine. The film went on to international crossover success, and a year after the Lolas, Stefan Ruzowitzky ran up onstage to accept the Oscar for best foreign film.

The 2010 Academy Awards are still a long way off, but after its triumph Friday, this reporter at least wouldn't bet against a "John Rabe" Oscar.