Berlinale 2014: Day 1

By Sascha Krieger

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Competition / United Kingdom, Germany / Director: Wes Anderson)

Film is often compared to dreams, after all Hollywood us called the “dream factory”, leading us into strange lands that often only exist as long as the lights are low and the projector is running. So it is only fitting that the world’s largest film festival would open with an elaborate and visually overwhelming dream. Such is Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, telling the story of Zero, a lobby boy at a luxury hotel in a pre-war fantasy state who is mentored by the legendary concierge Monsieur Gustave and plunges into an epic adventure with him. The film is a brightly colored tour de force, hilariously funny, a crazy comic book world full of strange and enchanting creatures. A passing, temporary world in which one can, for a short time, live or at least imagine a dream life. Like a hotel. The visuals are astounding, the story-telling, fast-paced, inventive, always surprising, the characters quirky, grotesque, lovable. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a gigantic and excessively sweet candy floss kind of a movie full of a stellar cast on the edge of quirkiness, a wildly entertaining ride that fully exploits film’s ability to create fantasy worlds that still manage to lay bare hints of the world we know. For despite all the colorfulness, the film also tells the story of a world threatened by war and violence, a dream long turned into nightmare. The Grand Budapest Hotel has its redundancies (such as the present day framing story) but it is a beautiful homage to the past we have lost but are encouraged to re-create and create anew with the greatest gift we have: imagination. And ultimately, it is a tribute to that wonderful dream machine we call cinema filled with hints and associations for those who want to find them (down to such a detail as the aspect ratio) – albeit one that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Which might be its most charming and enchanting quality.

The Grand Budapest Hotel, opening film of the 2014 Berlinale (© 2013 Twentieth Century Fox)

The Grand Budapest Hotel, opening film of the 2014 Berlinale (© 2013 Twentieth Century Fox)

American Hustle (Berlinale Special / United States / Director: David O. Russell)

New York City, 1978: Irving  (Christian Bale) is a con man: cunning, smart enough and aware of how far he can go. In Sydney (Amy Adams) he has found a partner who can take his efficiency to the next level. Until FBI agent Richard (Bradley Cooper) turns up and threatens to bust their lucrative fraud business. So they agree to help him catch bigger fish so he can let them go. And off goes a ride that will see politicians busted, the mafia getting involved, relationships and marriages shattered, dreams destroyed and others transformed. In David O. Russell’s film, everyone cons everyone else, he unleashes such a whirlwind of greed and hubris and treachery and sheer survival instinct that not only the viewer’s head starts spinning but with it the entire film. The film is set in a grotesque 1970s universe that is absurdly exaggerated as it is atmospherically true.  American Hustle is human comedy and Greek tragedy, brightly colored comic strip and panoramic tableau of an era, absurd caricature and warmly colored character tale. Everything is way over the top and down to earth, wildly ridiculous and stunningly realistic at the same time, a wild and colorful feast of a film that has the addictive power – and look – of an excellent narcotic, the embarrassingly inescapable pull of an orgy that goes way too far but which one cannot stop. Christian Bale is breath-taking as Irving, overweight, full of swagger and even fuller of fear, Cooper turns the ambitious out-of-control cop into a truly scary figure, Adams walks the thin line between deep vulnerability and excessive self-confidence. But the film’s true miracle is Jennifer Lawrence as Irving’ wife: desperate, hysterical, full of fear and a vague longing that explodes into one of the most screwed up characters in film history. American Hustle shows – and makes the audience feel – what happens when greed, personal desires and inferiority complexes react. It is like a weird psychedelic trip that leaves you confused. And happy.

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