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Culture

Comedy Goes Cult

Boris Becker has turned from the 17-year-old boyish sports star to the German people’s popstar. He is now appearing in a new German film comedy, which may give it that long-awaited - international - cult status.

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Still famous after all these years: Boris Becker and Claudia Schiffer

Taxidriver Frank Faust is a born loser. The incarnation of doom and gloom, Faust reaches lifetime rockbottom when girlfriend Jennifer, fed up with her moody companion, decides to leave. Left to his own resources, Frank falls deeper and deeper until finally confronted with Mephisto II, who says he is the devil’s son.

Anyone who has read Goethe knows how the story goes: Mephisto strikes a deal with Faust, who - in this case - sells his soul to the devil in exchange for a revival of his long-lost relationship with former girlfriend Jennifer. Frank, up to his ears in Liebeskummer, agrees.

This storyline is German director Rainer Matsutani and producer Bernd Eichinger's latest attempt at remaking the Goethe classic, the new film comedy "666". The film is yet another example of Germany’s current boom in movie comedies, following "Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door", "Life is a building Site" and "Rossini ".

Eichinger’s new production includes most of the Germany’s current most popular actors, such as Jan Josef Liefers, Armin Rohde and Ralf Bauer. But "666" also marks the debut of icons in German stardom such as tennis legend Boris Becker, super-model Claudia Schiffer and TV star Verona Feldbusch.

Boris Becker and Claudia Schiffer, two of the few German icons actually well-known abroad, play an extremely difficult role in Eichinger’s new film – themselves.

Hoping to attract the attention of loser Frank’s runaway girlfriend, Mephisto II, the modern-day devil takes on the identity of both Becker and Schiffer, giving Mr. Doom-and-Gloom alias Frank Faust that little bit of missing glory. Their presence may attract Frank’s ex, Jennifer. But will their presence bring "666" to stardom on the international film market?

Though German films are selling better nowadays, the industry has yet to experience a rennaissance. The two most successful and most popular – "Knockin’ on Heavens Door" and "Run Lola Run" – were both made in Hollywood. Of all Germany’s most popular current actors, Franka Potente and Til Schweiger are still the only ones to be recognized internationally.

So could Becker and Schiffer’s appearance give German film a shot at that new self confidence the rest of the country seems to be gaining at the beginning of the 21st century?

Still State heavy

After World War II, Germany’s first federal president, Theodor Heuss, gave particular substance to the argument that culture would help reintroduce Germany to the community of nations. It became an important factor when the republic grew beyond the confines of a Western protectorate, became a bulwark in the Cold war conflict and was able to draw on its status as Kulturstaat.

Since then, public culture has been recognized as a major factor on Germany’s way to sovereign political entity. As a result, the state has seen cultural participation as its obligation, an aspect which is reflected in current Germany’s state-subsidised culture.

State sponsoring covers more than 90 per cent of all subsidies in arts and culture today, with private contributions making up the remaining 10 percent. Various German film directors have looked to Hollywood for support, and have left the German film industry as a result.

The Good Old Days

Despite the efforts of film talents such as Franka Potente and Til Schweiger, German film does not boast a line of stars similar to German film’s halcyon days in the early 20th Century.

German film makers were pioneers in the early days of movie-making, especially in 1920-32, the "Golden Age" of German cinema, before the Nazis ruined its reputation.

German film was a model for Hollywood, which soon adapted German set designs, sound techniques and storytelling. Films like "Metropolis" were the forerunners that led Hollywood from flat lighting and mundane settings to more artistic and adventurous film forms.

In the 1920s and 30s, directors like Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder left Germany to move to Hollywood. Today, German directors still seem to be attracted by the hills of Hollywood – take Roland Emmerich and his world-famous movie "Independence Day".

Sports glam

Today, German fame exports do not necessarily come from the world of film, but more from sports and shows. Actors who can claim fame in Germany most often show up in popular sitcoms, such as RTL’s "Gute Zeiten Schlechte Zeiten", erotic TV shows such as "Peep" with German "barbie" Verona Feldbusch, or even advertising. Other celebrities who are generally associated with Germany are from the world of sports, like Becker.

According to Carla Rehm, who’s Alexander agency has been managing actors for 40 years, the difficulty in placing German actors in foreign films lies in their accents.

One of the reasons perhaps, why German actors very often end up playing the role of the evil German, such as actor Gerd Fröbe in the James Bond classic Goldfinger.

A valuable addition

The addition of well-known German celebrities such as Boris Becker and Claudia Schiffer could bring Eichinger’s new production "666" international fame. According to the German weekly Der Spiegel, Becker is a German idol, even if he doesn't play much anymore. People still have a soft spot for the red-haired tennis wonder.

Becker has shed himself of his 17-year-old boyish sports-star skin and has taken on the role of the sophisticated German people’s popstar – now stepping on board the German film boat, too. A sign o’ the times for Germany’s international performance?

Asked whether there were parallels between the development of the country and that of Germany’s most famous sportsman, Becker replied: "When I won Wimbledon, the words '17-year-old Leimener' were a synonym for success....I think, that Germany has shed its skin and has become more open, braver, cheekier and more provocative. Like me".

"....I think that I, not alone, am in a certain way, an ambassador for the new Germany".

German cult personality Boris Becker may help the film "666" and German film in general to a role on the international film stage. And might just give German comedy that long waited international cult status, too.