Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Film shows Germans not immune to return of Nazis

By Erik Kirschbaum
26 minutes ago

BERLIN (Reuters) -
The director of a new film that explores
the hypothetical question of whether another dictatorship could
ever emerge in Germany has come to the chilling conclusion that
it could happen again.

Dennis Gansel, whose film "Die Welle" (The Wave) opens on
Thursday, said the horrors of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich
haven't made modern-day Germans more immune to the lure of
charismatic leaders or persuasive group dynamics than any other

"It's wrong to say 'No way - a Nazi dictatorship could
never happen here'," Gansel said in an interview with Reuters
ahead of the release of his film, adapted from a U.S. novel by
Morton Rhue based on a California high school experiment in

"I think it would be possible even today for something like
that to arise in Germany again," a claim that is unsettling for
a country which studies its Nazi past intensively in schools
and where the burden of guilt still weighs heavy six decades

Gansel's film has already electrified the German media even
before its release. "It's already the most-talked about film of
the year," wrote Bild newspaper. Bunte magazine said: "It shows
how vulnerable people can be in authoritarian situations."

"Die Welle," a 4.6-million euro ($7 million) film, has
attracted film buyers abroad. The foreign rights were quickly
acquired by distributors in 20 countries after it won critical
acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

The film set in a Berlin suburb is about bored,
ill-mannered teenagers jolted out of their apathy by a dynamic

In the film, the German teens eagerly start snapping to
attention in the classroom, wearing 'uniforms' of white shirts,
calling themselves 'The Wave' and rallying to help each other.

As the powerful, if ominous, group dynamic gains momentum
and the number of participants multiplies to include half the
student body, a handful of students try in vain to stop it.

The original experiment in California was aborted after
five days. The students were invited to a rally to see the
leader of the movement but were instead shown a film about the

But Gansel's film, adapted to conform with contemporary
mores and modern-day violence at schools, takes a more sinister
path with its own tragedy as the movement spins out of control.

"I read the book in high school and haven't stopped
thinking of it since," said Gansel, 34, whose film also drew
praise from Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and a
standing-room only audience of 1,400 at a Berlin Film Festival

The novel and a made-for-TV movie in 1981 may have long
been forgotten in the United States but the book has remained
popular in Germany, where it is required reading in many

Gansel said group dynamics, though often benign, can be
seen everywhere: from soccer fans to anti-globalization
protesters at the Group of Eight summit in Heiligendamm last

"Group dynamics can be benevolent but they can also be
menacing," he said. "It's frightening how fast it can change.
Just look at what happened in the United States after 9/11."

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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