Two hot-button issues in Germany, the Nazi era and Scientology, are being pushed simultaneously by a new film in which Tom Cruise plays the country's most-famous anti-Hitler plotter, sparking controversy in Berlin.
Cruise, one of Scientology's best-known adherents, is to play Col. Claus Graf Schenk von Stauffenberg — the aristocratic army officer executed after a failed attempt to assassinate Hitler in 1944 — in director Bryan Singer's new film "Valkyrie."
The film's German co-producers say they were given permission to use the former German general staff headquarters in Berlin, where Stauffenberg worked and where he was executed, and that they plan a detailed, historically accurate treatment.
But word that a Scientologist would play Stauffenberg has rubbed some the wrong way. Germany's government considers Scientology a commercial enterprise that takes advantage of vulnerable people, and critics maintain that one of its adherents should not be playing one of the Nazi-era's few heroes.
Photos: Tom Cruise
Stauffenberg "is to be played by an actor whose sect, through dubious methods, attempts to lure people and make them pliable," Social Democratic lawmaker Klaus Uwe Benneter said on his Web site. "This is a slap in the face to all upstanding democrats, all resistance fighters during the Third Reich, and all victims of the Scientology sect."
Sabine Weber, a spokeswoman for Scientology in Berlin, said she was "shocked" that politicians would speak out against Cruise starring in the movie, saying that it was a "call to discrimination" against someone because of religious beliefs, which violates German and European human-rights codes.
The film's producers maintain the criticism is misguided, accusing politicians of making hay of a non-issue.
"Basically, some politicians are using the popularity of Tom Cruise to become popular themselves," Carl Woebcken, head of the Babelsberg studio that is slated to co-produce the film in Germany, told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
"This is not a Scientology film, it is a Bryan Singer film, and Bryan Singer is Jewish ... and they want to make this film to show that during the Nazi regime there was heroic resistance," Woebcken said. "The personal beliefs of Tom Cruise have to be separated from his skills as an actor. He is one of the best, if not the best, actors in the world for heroic roles and that is why Bryan Singer approached him."
United Artists called its film "a historically accurate thriller" and said in a statement that "Mr. Cruise's personal beliefs have absolutely no bearing on the movie's plot, themes or content."
Germany's federal agency that tracks extremism has had Scientology under observation for a decade on allegations that it "threatens the peaceful democratic order" of the country. The Scientologists long have battled to end the surveillance, saying it is an abuse of their right to freedom of religion, and the U.S. State Department regularly criticizes Germany in its annual Human Rights Report for the monitoring practice.
Stauffenberg's son Berthold Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg has spoken out against Cruise playing the role, telling the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that "he should keep his fingers off my father," and adding that he feared the movie would be "terrible kitsch."
Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung was quoted as saying such a film involving Cruise could not be made at his Ministry — the same building where Stauffenberg kept his offices and was dragged into the courtyard and shot after his plot failed.
But, Woebcken noted, the film company had not asked to film at the part of the Defense Ministry building occupied by the military, and already has preliminary permission from other agencies to film at the area where Stauffenberg's offices were, and where he was executed.
A Defense Ministry spokesman confirmed that the moviemakers had not asked to film in his ministry's areas, and said if the did, the application would be considered like any other.
Stauffenberg and the other plotters were caught and executed after Hitler survived the explosion at his headquarters in what was then East Prussia.
Woebcken said authorities should be welcoming the decision to shoot the film at original locations.
"The Defense Ministry ... says that if a Stauffenberg film is done, it has to be authentic, and for exactly that reason United Artists wants to do the film in Berlin in the original places," he said. "Otherwise they could have done the film anywhere in the world."
"Valkyrie" is scheduled for release in 2008.