Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel screened for the press here in Berlin this afternoon before officially opening the event tonight in competition. Reactions were greatly positive — one journalist at the film’s press conference looked about to cry over its beauty — although official reviews won’t appear until later this evening. Stars Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan and Tilda Swinton attended the press conference to talk about the movie that follows the adventures of a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. The nostalgic Euro caper involves the theft and recovery of a priceless Renaissance painting and the battle for an enormous family fortune.
There’s a nod to Austrian author Stefan Zweig at the end of the pic, once one of the best-known writers in the world, but who’s now more familiar on the Continent than in the U.S. Anderson acknowledged, “People in Europe are surprised we don’t know this writer.” The helmer said that Grand Budapest is “not based on any of his stories, but there are devices and an atmosphere and my intention was to do our own version of a Zweig story.” Other inspiration came from an extensive library of older films including 1932’s Grand Hotel and Love Me Tonight, Ernst Lubitsch’ To Be Or Not To Be and The Shop Around The Corner, William Wyler’s The Good Fairy, Ingmar Bergman’s The Silence, and The Mortal Storm with Jimmy Stewart, Margaret Sullavan and Frank Morgan.
As to why he shot in Germany, rather than Hungary, Anderson said the film required a spa town, not a big city. But in a nod to Lubitsch, he noted, “I always thought our Budapest is as connected as Budapest is in The Shop Around The Corner which was probably in Culver City or Burbank.”
Anderson has worked with much of the large cast before, including Murray, Swinton and Norton, and some who were not in attendance. Asked why they keep coming back, Murray deadpanned, “We are promised very long hours and low wages, and stale bread. You lose money on the job, but you get to see the world and we’re allowed to let Wes live this wonderful, magical life where his dreamscape comes true and if we show up he gets to have all the fun. I guess we like him.” Their relationship is something akin to father-son. “I’m a grizzled veteran… I think sometimes I represent something like that… Maybe I’m the father he never had or the one he wants to be.” Anderson approved of the sentiment.
Working with Fiennes for the first time, Anderson said he had actually written the lead part of Monsieur Gustave for the classical actor. But when he gave the script to Fiennes, he offered him a choice of roles. Fiennes cozied up to Gustave immediately and Anderson joked, “One of the best ways to get an actor to not want to be in your film is to offer them a part. They often say ‘I like all the other roles’.” Fiennes praised the working environment on an Anderson set, “To be in a film where the filmmaker is allowed to make the film they want to make is very rare.”
Swinton is back in Berlin with Grand Budpest and Bong Joon Ho’s Snowpiercer. She’s also a former jury president here and called Berlin her cinematic “battery charger.” Grand Budapest was, “the best fancy dress party I can imagine.” To a journalist who asked about her taking small roles of late, she said “Size is not everything.”
In one of the more contested, if silly moments during the panel, a question was asked as to why Grand Budapest has no characters sporting sleepwear – a staple of Anderson films. The cast and the director were quick to point out that indeed there were. Anderson: “I don’t want to fight about it, but there were pajamas.”