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Picture Palace
TIFF23 & beyond: German Actors Go Global

Do Not Expect Too Much, Nina Hoss
Do Not Expect Too Much, Nina Hoss | Photo (detail): © 4 Proof Film

The 48th TIFF boasted 14 German films—or 20+, depending on how you define ‘German Film’.

The stars of much anticipated films The Zone of Interest (UK), Anatomy of a Fall (France), Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World (Romania) and All the Light We Cannot See (USA) are Sandra Hüller, Nina Hoss and Lars Eidinger. Behind the camera, Wim Wenders presented his Perfect Days at North America’s biggest film festival three days after it was submitted for a Best International Film Oscar—by Japan. Oscar winning composer Volker Bertelmann flew in from Dusseldorf to celebrate his score for One Life (UK), starring Anthony Hopkins, while Berlin composer Yair Glotman was responsible for the music in the US thriller Reptile with Benicio del Toro.

What might look like someone spun a globe around is a reflection of the bright new world of international film, where national designations are increasingly becoming moot. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences abandoned the idea of “foreign” film for international film four years ago, while continuing to struggle with accepting on-screen multilingualism.

Meanwhile, Berlin director Ilker Çatak, attending TIFF with The Teacher’s Lounge, reacted to his Berlinale hit being submitted as the German Oscar entry: “We are very aware of the responsibility involved in representing German film on the international stage. We see our film as being both an individual work as well as a contribution to our nation’s cultural identity.“ Its lead, “Shooting Star” Leonie Benesch, might be as well-known for The Crown and Around the World in 80 Days now as for Babylon Berlin and The White Ribbon.

So what makes a “German film” these days?

The chamber play The Teacher’s Lounge might feel like following an intense socio-political lineage in German filmmaking of the last 50+ years. The rigorous and tenacious Werner Herzog will always be a quintessentially German --he argues Bavarian-- filmmaker although he has technically not made a “German” film in years. In the past, New German Cinema was corralled by its reaction to the (post-)WWII experience; the Berlin School (some of its members still contesting its existence) was, well, a Berlin-centric lifestyle cluster in a specific decade. Other countries or regions might have an easier time collectively defining, and marketing, their offerings—French film, Quebec film, Korean film— due to a more distinct style or recurring tropes across much of their national output.

Whatever the sentiments around the cultural identity question, shifts have been palpable for a while, for directors like Edward Berger or Marco Kreuzpaintner, who have essentially decamped to the UK, but especially for on-screen talent, between Daniel Brühl joining the Marvel Universe and Franz Rogowski winning in Venice in an Italian-Belgian film. European TV series like Bad Banks, starring multi-lingual actors like Paula Beer, Barry Atsma and Desiree Nosbusch, might have helped opening up ideas around national filmmaking and for that matter national identities overall. Hardly any of these are exiles (like Diane Krüger to the USA), but they toggle back and forth between Berlin and L.A. and Paris. What this new(-found) fluidity adds to international filmmaking is a broader range of voices converging on one screen, more opportunities and exchange for creatives, and more fresh faces and variety for curious audiences.  
Cover of The Hollywood Reporter “Sandra Hüller, Actress of the Year?” on TIFF’s Festival Street Cover of The Hollywood Reporter “Sandra Hüller, Actress of the Year?” on TIFF’s Festival Street | Photo: © Debashis Sinha
TIFF programmer Andrea Picard observed: “It does feel like a confluence of phenomenal German acting talent dominating the international art cinema scene. Hoss, Hüller, Eidinger, and Rogowski are among the great acting talents of their generations —but for so long, were solely working in German and the German industry. If you look at the international directors with whom they have recently been collaborating —Jude, Triet, Assayas, or Sachs—all have a passion for cinema and are invested in its current artform. In an industry threatened by a dominant system yet revitalized and bolstered by a global appetite for international arthouse, these partnerships and cross-overs can be thrilling — and that can extend to the box office, too. Talent has always transcended borders and we're now seeing this amazing, uncontainable German wave.”

What this means in the longer term for national, never mind regional German funding structures and German Films’, with the German film marketing agency’s definition of a “German film” as having at least 51% German monies behind it remains to be seen. Audiences in Toronto couldn’t care less about these industry rumblings and were applauding talent out of Germany in strong (subtitled) international films. As Franz Rogowski, at the Venice Film Festival 2023 in the Italian-Swiss film Lubo, told Variety magazine: “I am now on my way.”