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Happy Days Are Back as Germany Returns to Cannes

DW staff (dc)May 12, 2004

A star-studded Cannes film festival opened on Wednesday with 18 entries vying for the Palme d'Or. Among them is a German film -- the first to compete at Cannes in 11 years.

"Happy Days Are Gone" features three friends fighting for social justice.Image: AP / Y3 FILM / COOP99

The organizers of the Cannes film festival needed to generate some serious buzz around the proceedings -- last year's event was widely panned as being one of the most lackluster in the festival's history. They appear to have hit the mark.

This year, an extra dash of glamour is being added by the presence of A-list Hollywood actors such as Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks, and Charlize Theron. There's also a varied line-up of films, ranging from mainstream crowd-pleasers such as "Shrek 2" to more controversial offerings, such as Michael Moore's new documentary, "Fahrenheit 911."

A German comeback

But in Germany, the entry generating a little buzz of its own among cinema buffs is the film "Happy Days Are Gone," by director Hans Weingartner. Its inclusion ends an 11-year absence of German films at Cannes. Even more spectacular would be if the Austro-German coproduction, which tells the story of three teenagers trying to bring about social change in their town, were to take home Cannes' top honor, the Palme d'Or. But Weingartner told Deutsche Welle that winning the coveted prize is the last thing on his mind.

"I'm not hung up on prizes and awards," he said. "My next film could totally bomb, and in that case, I'd have to try not to go down with it, just as I now have to try to not totally flip out. The best way to do that is just to concentrate on my work, and not be influenced by other things. But I hope that we'll be able to sell the film around the world, so that lots of people will get the chance to see it. I'm not thinking about the prize at all. For me, it's already a huge achievement that it's even in the competition."

Still, the director, who made a name for himself with his first film, "The White Sound," conceded that success at Cannes could spark a renewal in German cinema. It helps that the star of "Happy Days Are Gone" is Daniel Brühl, who also starred in last year's internationally acclaimed German film, "Good-bye Lenin."

"I think Germany's got a new, fresh kind of cinema -- the kind of films that tend to do well at festivals," Weingartner said. "With new, digital techniques, it's much cheaper to make films now, so it's easier to make unconventional films."

Fostering new talent

Weingartner is among many other new filmmakers on this year's list at Cannes -- a departure from past years where entries have typically been the products of more seasoned directors. Cannes' artistic director Thierry Fremaux, said the organizers wanted to introduce some new blood with the addition of hot, young newcomers. As a result, he said the chosen films are "as varied as imaginable."

"There is nothing to compare between them, if nothing other than a very strong direction resulting in strong stylistic differences," said Fremaux.

Filmfestival in Cannes 2004 Quentin Tarantino
American director Quentin Tarantino, president of the Cannes Film Festival jury.Image: AP

The jury faced with picking the winners from this very mixed bag of 18 entries is headed by quirky American director, Quentin Tarantino (photo), meaning an offbeat movie could well scoop the Palme d'Or. In 1994, the Cannes jury gave the top prize "Pulp Fiction," the film that helped turn Tarantino into a household name.