‘Berlin Blues’ and films by Detlev Buck, at the L.A. Goethe-Institut

Wednesday nights this fall at the L.A. Goethe-Institut: A series of films directed by and/or starring Detlev Buck, not well known on these shores but an award-winning director, screenwriter and actor in Germany. The movies in the series have never received wide distribution in the U.S. (if at all); for me the big attraction here is Herr Lehmann (2003), playing on October 16th. The movie is based on a dryly comic novel by Sven Regener that has become something of a cultural touchstone in Germany.

Regener was the co-founder of the 1980s Berlin band Element of Crime, but became even better known as an author: published in 2001, Herr Lehmann sold a million copies in Germany, and Regener went on to pen two prequels.

Herr Lehmann and fellow bohemian. © Copyright Universal Pictures.

Translated as Berlin Blues in the U.K., Herr Lehmann depicts West Berlin deadbeat Frank Lehmann (Christian Ulmen) as he haunts the bars of Kreuzberg, Berlin’s fabled, rough-edged bohemian district, home to artists, dropouts, anarchists and a sizable population of Turkish immigrants. Frank’s life is based on doing as little as possible; even as he’s pushing 30, he meticulously rationalizes his indolence. The time is late summer and fall 1989: the scene that Frank inhabits is so insular that no one realizes that momentous changes are afoot — until, one fateful night in November, Frank’s drinking is disrupted by a lot of commotion…

Detlev Buck won a ‘Lola,’ the German film prize, for his portrayal of Frank’s artist friend Karl, who finds a successful gallery show to be more than he can bear. Another noteworthy member of the supporting cast is Christoph Waltz, who at the time was a journeyman German-Austrian actor.

L-r: Christoph Waltz, Christian Ulmen and Detlev Buck in HERR LEHMANN. © Copyright Universal Pictures.

Herr Lehmann marked Detlev Buck’s second collaboration with director Leander Haußmann; their prior effort was another award winner, 1999’s Sonnenallee (Sun Alley), a musical comedy about East Berlin teens in the late 1970s (playing on Oct. 9th). A bit cheekier than The Lives of Others, the movie’s irreverent POV comes from Haußmann’s experience growing up on the other side of the Wall.

Buck’s own work as a director includes romantic comedies, crime dramas and kids’ movies. His films have racked up a slew of awards from various European film festivals, so his introduction to L.A. audiences may be long overdue.


All shows start at 7:00 p.m., and are in German with English subtitles (natürlich). Admission is $1 for each film (i.e., “a buck for a Buck”).

Wednesday, Sept. 25:
Liebe Deine Nächste!
Dir. Detlev Buck, Germany, 1997, 96 min.

Co-starring Moritz Bleibtreu (Run Lola Run, The Baader-Meinhof Complex, Young Goethe in Love, World War Z, etc.)

Wednesday, Oct. 2:
(a.k.a. Sun Alley)
Dir. Leander Haußmann, Germany, 1998, 94 min.

Rock around the Eastern Bloc: the kids in SONNENALLEE. © Copyright Delphi.

Wednesday, Oct. 9:
(a.k.a. Bundle of Joy)
Dir. Detlev Buck, Germany, 2001, 91 min.

Wednesday, Oct. 16:
Herr Lehmann
(a.k.a. Berlin Blues)
Dir. Leander Haußmann, Germany, 2003, 115 min.

Wednesday, Oct. 23:
Dir. Leander Haußmann, Germany, 2004, 98 min.

Wednesday, Oct. 30:
(a.k.a. Tough Enough)
Dir. Detlev Buck, Germany, 2005, 99 min.

Wednesday, Nov. 6:
Hände Weg Von Mississippi
(a.k.a. Hands Off Mississippi)
Dir. Detlev Buck, Germany, 2006, 98 min.

Based on a children’s book by Cornelia Funke.


Wednesday, Nov. 13:
Same Same But Different
Dir. Detlev Buck, Germany, 2009, 106 min.

Wednesday, Nov. 20:
(a.k.a. Women in Love)
Dir. Detlev Buck, Germany, 2011, 106 min.

This comedy about a struggling actor who dresses like a woman to get a part, only to succeed all too well, sounds like a German take on Dustin Hoffman’s Tootsie.

Also of note: Detlev Buck’s most recent film, Measuring the World (2012), a historical epic based on a novel by Daniel Kehlmann, opens this year’s German Currents film festival on Oct. 4th. Complete info.

Feel free to weigh in