Germany's Offering to Cruise

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Tom Cruise

The German government may loathe Scientology, but it also loathes transatlantic tension. Berlin appears now to be moving to defuse the row caused by the German Defense Ministry denying access to a Hollywood production of a movie about the 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler — in protest against anti-Nazi hero Claus von Stauffenberg being played by Tom Cruise, because Cruise is a high-profile Scientologist. Although the Defense Ministry's position stands, the German Federal Film Fund (DFFF), a government agency established to support film making in Germany, appears to have made a peace offering, in the form of a $6 million grant to the company making the film.

Last month, the German Defense Ministry announced that if Tom Cruise played Stauffenberg in Bryan Singer's film Valkyrie, the Stauffenberg memorial on the Ministry grounds in Berlin would be off-limits to the production. The actor's membership in the Church of Scientology was incompatible, a spokesperson said, with "a sincere and respectful depiction" of the war-time events. The German government considers Scientology a sect masquerading as a religion in order to make money. The decision drew a sharp retort from United Artists, whose CEO Paula Wagner said that Cruise's "personal beliefs have absolutely no bearing on the movie's plot, themes, or content."

But not all Germans were comfortable with their government's position: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, director of the Academy Award- winning The Lives of Others, wrote this week in a German paper that the casting of Cruise in the film about Stauffenberg's attempt to kill Hitler would "do more for Germany's image abroad than 10 World Cups." (He was referring to last year's soccer tournament hosted by Germany, to global acclaim.)

This week, Germany's Culture Minister, Bernd Neumann, attempted some damage control, insisting that despite the controversy, Germany "is as popular as ever" as a filming destination . He argued that barring the film production company from the Stauffenberg memorial in Berlin was not discriminatory but simply an attempt to preserve the "dignity" of the site, which he said would be " infringed by filming, even if the film company did not intend it." He also rejected the charge that Germany was in any way violating Tom Cruise's religious freedom. "The fact is that in this country, Scientology is viewed as a sect and not a church," Neumann told the Berliner Morgenpost. "If a man aggressively representing this sect plays one of our national heroes this is naturally going to result in emotional comments. This would not be any different in America, by the way."

The decision to provide extra funding for the movie may or may not have been political. Over $4 million was automatically disbursed because the film is being made in Germany. For example, in April, the same government agency forked over more than $12 million to Warner Bros. for a local production of the film Speed Racer. But the DFFF did decide to give the film company about $1,088,000 more than the required minimum, according to a spokeswoman, although she said that the additional money was granted because the company had decided to spend more than 35% of its production costs in the country. Still, a government advisory board could easily have refrained from such generosity. Von Donnersmarck questioned why the German state was getting involved in these questions to begin with. "Once again the German state is presenting itself as if it has all the answers," he wrote in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. "None of us are gods, not Stauffenberg, nor Tom Cruise, nor (scientology founder) L. Ron Hubbard , nor any of us." The role of the state should be nothing more than providing the space for filmmakers and other artists to search for "an inner truth," he said. If a few million bucks can help in that quest, so much the better.