Where does Soenke Wortmann get his ideas?

By MARY CAFFREY
Associated Press Writer

 

BONN, Germany (AP) – Director Soenke Wortmann, 35, says his own experiences don’t influence the films he makes.

 

He just takes such things naturally.

 

Like his success, which he discusses with the matter-of-fact air of someone who expected nothing less.

 

Wortmann’s comic hit, “Der bewegte Mann,” (“The Turbulent Man”), is one of the most successful German films in a decade.

 

The film may be titled “Pretty Baby” if it is released in America, Wortmann said. The film is based on comic books written in 1987 and ’88 by Ralf Koenig. The stories follow the intricate love triangles of four unlikely bedfellows in Cologne.

 

Intelligent and witty, “Der bewegte Mann” is like a Shakespeare comedy with a ’90s twist: half of the star-crossed lovers are gay.

 

“It’s not a gay film, but gays are taken very seriously,” Wortmann says.

 

The director manages his goal of reaching a mainstream audience, regardless of the sexual orientation of his characters.

 

“You also fall in love with the wrong guys, don’t you?” he asks. “That’s what happens to Norbert,” to one of the film’s main characters, who is gay.

 

Although he wanted to make the film when he discovered the Koenig comics, Wortmann says it wasn’t acceptable at the time to make a love triangle involving gay men.

 

“It was not the right time five years ago,” he says. “Nobody wanted to see a film like that … so at least in the arts, it’s another taboo that has been broken.”

 

More than 2 million people have seen the film since it opened six weeks ago, bringing in more than 28 million marks (dlrs 18 million).

 

Wortmann hopes the box office success in Germany will attract attention for the film in America.

 

His production company, Neue Constantin, hopes for word in January on whether the film will be distributed in the United States.

 

Wortmann  – in a black leather jacket and jeans, a three-day growth of white-blond and red stubble on his jaw, and ever-present cigarette in hand – is one of a group of young directors redefining German cinema.

 

For decades, the German film industry was flooded with gloom-and-doom films – gray depictions of war-time and post-war hardships, such as “The Tin Drum” and “The Marriage of Maria Braun.”

 

Along with films such as Katja von Garnier’s “Abgeschminkt” (“Without Makeup”) in 1993 and “Frauen sind was Wunderbares” (“Women are Wonderful Things”) directed by Sherry Hormann this year, “Der bewegte Mann” is a refreshing break from all the pouting around.

 

Wortmann says his magic is comedies with wide appeal, which entertain while also having something to say.

 

“Most of the German films, they came up with this message, and the message was the important thing, and not the film,” he says.

 

“My way of thinking is the other way around, that first you have to think of the film, to entertain people, and through entertaining, there is always a little space for a message, also.”

 

Wortmann says the serious German films were necessary after World War II, but they “were just intellectual exercises, which is not the meaning of cinema, as I see it.”

 

For Wortmann, the meaning of cinema is simply “American.”

 

He does, however, make a point of seeing German films.

 

“German film gets better and better and it’s more and more fun to watch the development which it is taking at the moment,” he says.

 

More entertainment and less lesson, he says, is a definite improvement.

 

But lighter, funnier German films still may not draw an American audience, Wortmann acknowledges. “Americans don’t want to see subtitled movies so much. … Even if it’s in an art cinema in Ohio, that doesn’t mean that it has a wide appeal.”

 

Wortmann was raised in the Ruhrgebiet, an area of Germany known for its flat land and small, dull towns.

 

He does not remember deciding to become a director. “There are these people who make Super-8 films when they’re 6 years old. I never did that.”

 

Nevertheless, he left his hometown after high school to attend a film academy in Munich, where he made short films. His first feature was a made-for-TV movie called “Ein Wahnsinnes Ehe” (“A Madcap Marriage”).

 

After success with “Kleine Haie” (“Little Sharks”), he directed his lone flop, “Mr. Bluesman,” which starred American actor Lloyd Bridges. It was filmed in English and dubbed into German for release only in Germany.

 

“Basically the script was not good enough, and we didn’t realized it,” Wortmann said.

 

“It was very risky, and it didn’t work. The original version was not too bad. … But after the dubbing into German it lost too much.”

 

Wortmann said Bridges was cast in the main role because the producer wanted to have international appeal, but the producer “thought too much of foreign countries and he forgot Germany.”

 

The film may have tried to do too much, said Wortmann, describing it as a love story, thriller and musical. In other words, it wasn’t a classical Wortmann: straightforward entertainment.

 

November 25, 1994

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