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Culture

Director von Donnersmarck makes Hollywood debut with 'The Tourist'

Big stars, big budgets and big expectations: that's what awaits filmmakers who make the switch to Hollywood. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck is the most recent German director to switch to Hollywood with "The Tourist."

The trademark Hollywood sign in California

German names have been behind some of Hollywood's major hits - and flops

Angelina Jolie's new film "The Tourist" sees the actress purring, posing and prodding men from Paris to Venice - a bit like how the film itself got its start. Dissatisfied with the original script, Jolie called up German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck and convinced him. If you'll rewrite the script and direct, she said, I'm in.

The movie is the director's second, following his 2006 Oscar-winning debut film, "The Lives of Others." Von Donnersmarck made his way across the pond for his big-budget Hollywood premiere, but the capital of show business is a bit different than the director had imagined.

"I had thought that everything would be a bit more lascivious, adventurous and sexually decadent - that everybody would sleep with everybody," he told dpa news agency. "But really it's just hardworking people that don't go to bed too late because they have to get up at six for an appointment with their personal trainers."

The first result of von Donnersmarck's venture to Hollywood opens on December 10 in the US and makes its German debut on December 16.

Poor reviews ahead of the US premiere don't bode well for the film, however, with Variety calling it "a euro-chic trifle". The Hollywood Reporter website said the film was "served under a label promising first-class champagne" but tasted like "last night's prosecco."

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck at the 2007 Oscar Awards ceremony

A door opened for director von Donnersmarck after his 2007 Oscar win

Never far from home

The 37-year-old director moved to Tinseltown just six months after his 2007 Oscar win, as calls from agents and other industry insiders began to pour in. But a change of location is nothing new for the Cologne-born director, who spent stints of his childhood in Brussels, Berlin and New York and studied in St. Petersburg and Oxford.

On the other hand, the director insists his home country hasn't left his thoughts or his work.

"In my mind, I haven't left Germany," said von Donnersmarck in an interview with the weekly Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung. "I would lose much too much by not being able to keep making German films and taking up German topics and themes."

That may set him apart from some of his German colleagues, who have made the switch from making films at home to creating Hollywood blockbusters.

Hollywood superstars, German roots

Von Donnersmarck's story sounds a bit like that of Wolfgang Petersen, director of 1981's "Das Boot" ("The Boat"), which garnered a host of Oscar nominations (although no wins) and catapulted its director to international fame.

Scene from Das Boot by Wolfgang Petersen

"Das Boot" (1981) is a dramatic war film following the fate of a World War II submarine

Petersen made the move from Hamburg to Hollywood, where he went on to direct major hits, including "In the Line of Fire" (1993), "Air Force One" (1997) and "Troy" (2004). Although Petersen now enjoys being one of the few directors with the privilege of making the "final cut" on his films, it hadn't always been smooth sailing. His 2006 "Poseidon" was a flop in comparison with its massive $160-million budget.

Petersen isn't the only German-born director to have churned out international blockbusters in the last two decades. He's joined by Roland Emmerich, director of thrillers heavy on special effects like "Independence Day" (1996), "The Patriot" (2000) and "The Day after Tomorrow" (2004). The director got his foot in the door in Hollywood with 1994's "Stargate."

Emmerich had begun his career in his home country with a series of lesser-known films, first in German and then in English. The move to Hollywood filmmaking was a shock in at least one way for the self-described penny-pincher from southern Germany.

"I have the nature of a very thrifty person," Emmerich said in 1994. "So it's really strange to suddenly be on top of a project with more than a 50 million dollar budget."

Like von Donnersmarck, Emmerich still draws inspiration from Germany and returned to Potsdam to direct his most recent film, "Anonymous," set for release in 2011.

Director Oliver Hirschbiegel against a poster showing Adolf Hitler

Hirschbiegel's "Downfall" (2004) follows Hitler in his final days

No guarantees

But even Oscar nominations and star-studded casts haven't been enough to save some of von Donnersmarck's Germany-to-Hollywood colleagues from box office defeat.

Oliver Hirschbiegel's 2004 drama "Downfall" garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and paved the way for the director's LA debut with 2007's "The Invasion." But despite a cast including Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, the movie was a flop and fell millions of dollars short of its budget.

German-born director Mennan Yapo, who has Turkish roots, suffered a similar fate after his direction in 2004's "Lautlos" ("Soundless") drew international acclaim. He followed up with "The Premonition," starring Sandra Bullock, about a housewife with a chilling suspicion, but critics generally panned the effort.

It remains to be seen whether "The Tourist" will live up to its Hollywood-sized expectations, despite initial negative reviews in the US. But if not, von Donnersmarck can reassure himself with the fact that he's already an Oscar-winner, unlike some of his predecessors.

If the film turns out to be a success after all, he may just become another in a long line of German-speaking directors to go down in Hollywood's movie-making history, from Fritz Lang to Billy Wilder.

Author: Greg Wiser (dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Kate Bowen

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