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‘Grand Budapest’ opens fest Anderson world premiere marks a coup for Berlinale

BERLIN, Feb 6, (AFP): The world premiere of Wes Anderson’s keenly awaited caper “The Grand Budapest Hotel” was to open the 64th Berlin film festival Thursday as it joins the race for the Golden Bear top prize. The high-profile opening movie with an all-star cast led by British actor Ralph Fiennes marks a coup for the Berlinale, Europe’s first major cinema showcase of the year. The 11-day festival will screen more than 400 productions from around the world before a jury led by US producer James Schamus (“Brokeback Mountain”) hands out the main awards among 20 contenders. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is Anderson’s eighth feature and follows his bittersweet first-love story “Moonrise Kingdom”, which launched the Cannes film festival in 2012 to become a critical and box office hit. It will be the third time in the Berlinale competition for Anderson, who has striven to maintain quirky indie sensibilities while filming with ever growing budgets, following “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” and “The Royal Tenenbaums”.

Anderson has lined up another stellar ensemble cast including Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Bill Murray, Harvey Keitel, Lea Seydoux, Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton along with Edward Norton, Mathieu Amalric and Owen Wilson to light up Berlin’s red carpet. Online buzz from industry types given a sneak preview of “Grand Budapest” indicated that the picture is one of the strongest by Anderson, a three-time Oscar nominee. The Texas-born director, 44, said he took inspiration from film classics by Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder while tracking the escapades of an early 20th-century concierge of the old school, Gustave H, against the backdrop of a continent in turmoil. “When the adventures of the main character begin, I decided to take some orientation from German and Austrian directors who emigrated to Hollywood in the ‘30s,” he told Berlin magazine Tip ahead of the festival. The story revolves around the theft of a priceless Renaissance painting and the battle for an enormous family fortune left by dowager countess Madame D, played by Swinton who in a film trailer is seen aged with makeup beyond recognition.

Fiennes, who reportedly took the lead role when Johnny Depp bowed out, appears as Gustave, who is accused of Madame D’s murder by her scheming son (Brody). Murray, who has appeared in all of Anderson’s feature films apart from his debut, plays a member of a secret order of concierges which comes to Gustave’s rescue. Although set in an imaginary Central European country called Zubrowka, the action in “Grand Budapest” traces a familiarly tragic historical arc from the Belle Epoque to fascism and then communist dictatorship. Festival director Dieter Kosslick told reporters last week that apart from being a major new work from a popular director, the movie was the right choice in a year in which Europe marks the 100th anniversary of World War I as well as 25 years since the Berlin Wall fell. “There is a lot of German history in this movie, and that goes for many of the films to be shown here, regardless of where they are from,” he said.

Murray also stars in George Clooney’s “The Monuments Men” about an elite unit of Allied soldiers fighting to rescue precious artworks from the Nazis, which will screen Saturday out of competition at the Berlinale. Both pictures were shot in Germany with themes that resonate deeply in the country, Kosslick noted, pointing to the recent discovery of hundreds of priceless artworks stashed in a Munich flat, many of them believed to have been looted by the Germans during World War II. Schamus, joined on the jury by two-time Oscar-winning Austrian actor Christoph Waltz and “James Bond” co-producer Barbara Broccoli among others, said that despite the panel’s divergent backgrounds, movies pulled it together like a family. “A family is a space where you get to really profoundly, at the molecular level, disagree with everybody you’re having food with and wake up the next morning and still be in love,” he told the opening news conference. “And I do think that’s the joy of festival juries when they work. And even when they don’t work that well, just like families, you still have those bonds.”

Following the sudden death of Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, organisers said the festival would screen “Capote”, in which the 46-year-old starred, as a tribute. “He’ll be here,” Schamus said.
“It’s places like Berlin that you have the opportunity in a sense to remember and to mourn and to celebrate.” “When I first saw the building, I thought: It’s perfect. Just perfect,” says Oscar-nominated production designer Adam Stockhausen (12 Years a Slave) about the 18th century department store that plays the title role in Wes Anderson’s Berlin Film Festival opener The Grand Budapest Hotel. The film’s producer Jeremy Dawson says Anderson “just lit up” when he first saw the building — the Gorlitzer Warenhaus — in the small Eastern German city of Gorlitz on the Czech/Polish border. “We saw right away it would work — the building had the height and scale, the grandness, we needed. It had beautiful bones.”

But when Anderson first scouted the building — and fell in love with it — the owners of the Warenhaus were in the middle of messy bankruptcy proceedings, complicating the shoot. Dawson eventually tracked down the Dutch holding company acting as liquidator and worked out a deal. Then Stockhausen — and Anderson — got to work. “The columns, the staircases, that really magnificent window and that huge chandelier, that was already there, that’s all original,” says Stockhausen. “We built everything else.” Inspired by Photochrom postcards from the 1920s and ‘30s, the production team began cherry-picking objects and designs from period buildings across Europe — a 19th?century hotel in Prague, a chair from a spa in Karlovy Vary, a bar front spotted in Paris. Anderson meticulously choreographs his shots and Stockhausen says the director typically requires only “tiny pieces of rooms, just the minimum set required to support the camera shot.” The lobby of the Grand Budapest Hotel was different.

“We ended up designing that entire, huge space,” Stockhausen says. “When we tracked through all the shots, it turned out we saw everything. So we had full, 360-degree coverage.” In fact, Stockhausen built not one but two complete sets in the Grand Hotel lobby: a 1920s-30s look for the main portion of the film and then, for a sequence in the 1960s after the hotel is crudely remodeled post-WWII, a design Stockhausen describes as “GDR ugly,” featuring lower ceilings with cheap wood panels and lit by harsh fluorescent lights.

Anderson was so enamored of the Gorlitzer Warenhaus he even considered buying the building himself, if only to save it from being demolished. He needn’t have worried. A newspaper article about the Grand Budapest shoot caught the attention of a private investor — Winfried Stocker — who bought the building last summer. The grand Warenhaus currently is being renovated and is set to open its doors again next year.

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