Tom Tykwer's bid for the big time


When "The International" opens the 59th Berlin International Film Festival Feb. 5, all eyes will be on director Tom Tykwer.

Produced by Charles Roven, Richard Suckle and Lloyd Phillips and distributed by Sony around the world , "The International" would seem to have all the right elements. Its plot, involving an evil banking syndicate doing nasty things with your money, seems ideally timed to tap post-credit crunch rage. The trailer -- all firefights and international chase scenes -- seems almost like a replay of a Bond movie.

But a by-the-numbers thriller would be a huge disappointment for Tykwer's art-house fan base, which is hoping "The International" will mark a return to the rigorous visual style and intellectual bravado of earlier films like 1998's "Run Lola Run." It's a style that some would say was missing from his last big-budget project: "Perfume -- the Story of a Murderer."

"There was nothing wrong with 'Perfume,' but it could have been directed by any number of competent directors-for-hire," says Jan Schulz-Ojala, a film critic with Berlin's Tagesspiegel newspaper. "What was missing was the electrifying originality in visual and narrative style ... that makes Tom Tykwer such a focal point for a generation of (German) filmmakers."

If one is to believe producer Lloyd Phillips, in "The International" Tykwer has found the critical balance between art and commerce.

"Tom's an interesting combination of both -- he brings the professionalism and skill (needed for a big- budget production) but also his own thoughtful and creative intellect to the story. He remains very true to his artistic vision."

But whatever "The International's" fate, it doesn't look as if Tykwer is going Hollywood any time soon. Coming off his studio thriller, he has produced and co-directed "Germany 09," a state-of-the-nation omnibus featuring a who's who of current German art house directors including Fatih Akin ("The Edge of Heaven") and Hans Weingartner ("The Edukators").

"Germany 09" is also screening out of competition in Berlin, so fans will have a chance to see two very different films from Germany's most enigmatic director.