BERLIN, Germany — Only Bill Murray would have the balls enough to joke with the Polizei. After flying into Berlin’s Tegel Airport at the crack of dawn, the boisterous comic legend was asked by a dour customs agent how long he planned to stay. “Until you kick me out!” he shouted with a smile.
Not a bad way to start a visit to the 64th Berlinale, an international kinofest of gluttonous cinephilia and one of the major stops on the annual film festival circuit. Mr. Murray was in town for the world premiere of Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel, which opened the event on Thursday night to rapturous—and justly deserved—applause.
A delightfully fastidious (and fastidiously delightful) confection from the eccentric American director, Budapest is Mr. Anderson’s valentine to Europe and a phantasmagoric period piece about as authentic as a 1930s Hollywood backlot. Set in the fictitious country of Zubrowka and shot in and around the German town of Görlitz, Budapest follows the hair-raising prewar adventures of luxury hotel concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and a Renaissance painting controversially bequeathed to him by his geriatric paramour, the newly-deceased dowager Madame D. (Tilda Swinton). Family hit men, prison breaks and the rise of fascism all merge to keep the ever-dashing Gustave on the run from one baroque comic set piece to the next.
The enchanting pastiche, dedicated to Viennese writer Stefan Zweig but feeling more like a lost installment of Hergé’s Tintin, is a welcome departure for the director and makes him a serious challenger to Jean-Pierre Jeunet in terms of pure Continental whimsy. “It’s the best fancy-dress party,” said Ms. Swinton of the fetishistically sartorial experience (her second with Mr. Anderson, after Moonrise Kingdom).
Ultimate Anderson alum Mr. Murray, an actor in all but one of the director’s features, was asked at the Budapest press conference to elaborate on his relationship with Mr. Anderson. “Well, the romance is gone,” he deadpanned. He also explained that working on an Anderson film is hardly lucrative. “We are promised very long hours and low wages,” he said. “And stale bread. You lose money on the deal. You end up spending more money on tips than you earn.” Murray then went on to rib the director about how he had to spend a week on London for 20 minutes of work and a month in India for two days of filming. “But we’re very efficient when we do work,” said Mr. Anderson.
As with all of the director’s films, the humor is in the details. Among the recurring Budapest gags is M. Gustave’s addiction to being heavily perfumed with fictional cologne L’Air de Panache. When jokingly asked to describe the scent, Mr. Anderson replied with a surprisingly vivid answer. “It has a Russian quality, like Orthodox incense,” he said. “Plus, something collected from the erogenous zones of rare animals.”
Budapest is a strong awards contender here at Berlin—and not hurting its chances is the fact that this year’s president of the jury is founder and former head of Focus Features James Schamus, who distributed Mr. Anderson’s previous film. Joining Schamus is a typically eclectic group of jurors, including American indie starlet Greta Gerwig (whose names sounds fantastic when spoken in German, by the way), Tarantino muse Christophe Waltz, French director Michel Gondry, Asian heartthrob Tony Leung and James Bond producer Barbara Broccoli.
They gathered earlier in the day to talk about their expectations for this week as well as their working relationship. Said one German journalist, “Are you like a big family? I suppose Mr. Schamus is the Big Daddy. And who will be the older sister?”
“That question is so wrong in so many ways,” laughed Mr. Schamus.
Another journalist (prompting a few boos in the room) tried to bait the jurors into a comment on the resurfacing of Woody Allen’s child molestation charge by asking about the ethical role of art and artists. Quickly silenced, all the jurors immediately looked to Mr. Schamus. “James, do you want to take this?” said one. “I believe the moral and ethical decisions have already been made by the selection committee,” Mr. Schamus deftly sidestepped.
And a local reporter, in a bid to be flattering, congratulated Ms. Gerwig on her Oscar nomination. “I didn’t get an Oscar nomination,” she replied. “I wish I did! I am a Golden Globe nominee, though.”
“Sorry,” replied the reporter. “I’m living in Berlin, I’m a little bit out of touch.”