Berlin Celebrates ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ and Remembers Philip Seymour Hoffman


Tony Revolori, Wes Anderson and Bill Murray at The Grand Budapest Hotel premiere in Berlin. Photo: AFP.

After a swirl of anticipation leading up to its debut, Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel finally made its World Premiere, opening up the Berlin International Film Festival Thursday night in the German capital. The setting was perhaps appropriate. Though the city is hundreds of miles from the movie's namesake, Budapest, the formerly walled Berlin straddles East and West -- filmmakers, actors and language come from the West, while the setting is a fairytale-esque rendition of Eastern Europe.

Stars of The Grand Budapest Hotel, of course, joined in on the opening, which was the film's first official public showing (there had been some speculation that it would screen as a "sneak" at the Sundance Film Festival last month). Ralph Fiennes, Saoirse Ronan, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe and Tony Revolori were on hand pre-premiere for a group chat about the film at the Berlinale's nucleus in Potsdamerplatz.

"We went to Budapest along the way thinking that it might be a place where we could film," said Wes Anderson Thursday. "We needed a spa town, not a big city like Budapest...I always thought that our Budapest is just as connected to the Budapest in The Shop Around the Corner....I kinda think our movie is an Eastern Europe filtered through movies."

The Grand Budapest Hotel centers on the adventures Gustave H, a flamboyant concierge at an equally flamboyant hotel between the wars. Zero Moustafa is the new lobby boy and quickly becomes his protégé. They become entangled in the battle for an enormous family fortune, the theft and recovery of a priceless Renaissance painting, a love affair and a continent buckling under the winds of yet another war.

"It was a fantastic role and I responded really to Wes and his spirit…," said Ralph Fiennes who plays the concierge M. Gustave. "He's written the film, he hears it very particularly and there are certain rhythms and details....To be part of that, along with a fantastic cast, as an acting experience, it was fantastic... Wes loves all his actors and encourages them to explore, after many, many takes, his texts, and you feel exhausted, happily exhausted....It was a no brainer, a great part, a great director and a great script."

Tilda Swinton, who has had her share of Berlinales, recalled the first time she attended the festival in the mid '80s. At that time, the Berlin International Film Festival was situated firmly in West Berlin. The wall was still in place and the final phase of the Cold War was breathing its final breath.

"The Berlinale is such a precious place for me. I came here first with the first film I ever made, which was a film by Derek Jarman called Caravaggio," she said here. "It was not just the first film I ever made but the first film festival I ever went to....It's like my cinematic battery charger, the Berlinale...I'm thrilled to be here. It's filled with friends for me."

Remembering Philip Seymour Hoffman

Fest jurors met the press just hours before Thursday's gala.  Producer/writer and former Focus Features chief James Schamus is helming this year's jury, which includes Greta Gerwig, Christoph Waltz, Michel Gondry, Barbara Broccoli, Trine Dyrholm, Mitra Farahani and Tony Leung. It will be their charge to award this year's Main Slate competition, including Berlin's Golden Bear (last year won by Romanian filmmaker Calin Peter Netzer's Child's Pose).

The conversation soon turned to last weekend's tragic news about Philip Seymour Hoffman's death, according to Indiewire, which attended the press conference. "That news was pretty tough on all of us in the business," said Schamus. "And Philip Seymour Hoffman will be here. There's going to be a screening and I know a lot of his friends are going to be joining together to remember him." 

The Berlinale will screen Bennett Miller's Capote, which won Hoffman an Oscar. The screening will take place Tuesday, February 11.

Added Schamus: " It's places like Berlin where you have the opportunity -- in a sense -- to remember and to mourn and to celebrate. I think that the festival is doing it's best to make sure that he'll be here."

[Erik Luers contributed to this article.]

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