As the American middle class continues to shrink, so too does the American middlebrow film. It’s hard to remember, but there used to be modestly budgeted studio movies about middle-class people who live in the real world of American life. This summer, a major studio released just one of these films, Swing Vote, and after two months, it still hasn’t made back its budget. Thankfully, Munich is picking up Hollywood’s slack. This weekend, the Goethe Institute and American Cinematheque are presenting 12 studio-caliber films from Bavaria, and of the three made available for preview (all of which were nominated for the German equivalent of Oscar’s Best Picture), each is a sterling example of middlebrow cinema. Saturday night is the U.S. premiere of Cherry Blossoms by director Doris Dörrie (Men), a quirky, sentimental film about a rural couple who feel neglected by their urban-dwelling children. Clearly influenced by Ozu’s Tokyo Story, Dörrie’s film lacks the precision or subtlety of that classic of family ennui; but even late in the film the clunky appearance of a homeless Japanese girl who serves as an innocent guide to redemption, Cherry Blossoms never fully dips into sappy melodrama. Less artful and barely credible is Sunday’s L.A. premiere of The Wave. Directed by Dennis Gansel, this morality fable about fascism (based on a real incident from a California high school) is well-intentioned, earnest and ultimately leaden. The cool teacher (played by Juergen Vogel) at a suburban German prep school listens to the Ramones’ “Rock ’n’ Roll High School” on his drive to class in the morning and segregates his students into groups to make a point about the rise of Nazism. The social experiment ends badly (of course), but instead of the desired emotional impact, the violent finale achieves only the self-important hand-wringing of an afterschool special. (Vogel also turns up in Rabbit Without Ears, a mass-market schtickfest from actor-director Til Schweiger, which proves that Germany can rival Hollywood when it comes to slick, loveless, unfunny romantic comedies). While as earnest as the other films, And Along Come Tourists digs a little deeper with its story about Germans and Poles living and working in the shadow of present-day Auschwitz, investigating not just guilt and boredom but the complex ways people try to use these feelings for social and financial gain. If only writer-director Robert Thalheim’s didn’t feel obliged to hitch these interesting themes to a bland and predictable romance/coming-of-age plot line. They may not be art, but these films are all intelligent, professional-grade entertainments that reflect the world most moviegoers live in, regardless of which country they call home. (American Cinematheque at the Aero Theatre; through Sun., Sept. 28. www.americancinematheque.com.)
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