George Clooney and his merry band of Monuments Men arrived in Berlin this weekend. The film is playing in the Competition section tonight, although it is not actually vying for prizes (despite some tough reviews, it just opened Stateside with an expected haul of $20.6M). As with Berlin opening movie The Grand Budapest Hotel, Monuments Men was shot in Germany, taking advantage of local tax breaks, and that has not been lost on the festival. The U.S. ambassador today held a reception honoring both films with two rooms in the vast embassy decked out to look like sets from each (an idea he said came from his “ambassadorable” wife who used to be in the entertainment biz). Festival chief Dieter Kosslick, MPAA head Chris Dodd and former AMPAS president Hawk Koch all attended. At the Monuments Men press conference later in the afternoon, Clooney, Matt Damon, Jean Dujardin, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban, Dimitri Leonidas, Justus von Dohnányi and writer/producer Grant Heslov serenaded photographers with Working In The Coal Mine… and formed a conga line.
When the group settled, most of the talk centered on why Clooney had chosen to make the film. He and Heslov had been “doing rather cynical movies for quite some time” and the film’s source novel – The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves And The Greatest Treasure Hunt In History – “reminded me of movies I grew up loving like Guns Of Navarone and Kelly’s Heroes,” Clooney said. Recent headlines about recovered artworks were simply a coincidence, but Clooney joked, “We had a three-year conversation with the guys here at Fox to get the news to hold the story. It was very expensive so we’d like to thank Jim Gianopulos.” More seriously, he noted it was an opportunity to talk about “a unique group of people. For the first time in the history of war, the victor didn’t get to keep the spoils.” Of the film’s prospects in Europe where the subject matter might be more relevant, Clooney downplayed with a “We’ll see.” Responding to a Greek journalist’s question about suggestions he might have for how Greece should retrieve their own artefacts which now reside in the UK, Clooney said, “I think you have a very good case to make… and I think it would be a very good, fair, nice thing to return them.” When the woman pressed for his “proposals” on how to get that done, he reverted to jokester mode, poking fun at his reputation as an eternal bachelor: “Proposals? Hold on!”
As is often the case with Clooney and the press in these situations, there was a lot of kidding around today – some provided by Murray, currently on Day 3 of his unofficial Berlin Comedy Tour. Here are a few choice moments:
-Asked about shooting in the Saxony-Anhalt region of Germany, Murray deadpanned that he and Balaban “went up on the mountain for Witches Night and we were assaulted… Shame on us, I guess.”
- Clooney said he and Heslov teased Murray with scenes from the Monuments Men script as a means to getting him to sign on. “It wasn’t very nice. (George) told me the whole story and I wad hooked on it, and then he started talking about pasta. Later, I was asked to work. I felt kind of like a sucker, but I was happy. They’re a good group.”
- Damon was told by a journalist, “Matt, you look very good for your age.” (The person said they’d been put up to it…)
- A woman who apparently ran into some of the crew partying last night admitted she had a hangover today and wondered why Clooney and Damon looked so put-together. Clooney said it was because they were still drunk.
- When a journalist asked a somewhat unintelligible question about Hollywood’s relationship to money, Damon responded to gales of laughter and applause “Yes, the movie business is money-driven, like any business.”
- German actress/comedian Anke Engelke stood up in the audience at one point and wondered if the whistling tune in Monuments Men (which Heslov and Clooney recorded at Abbey Road Studios) was not lifted from Prokofiev’s cat themes in Peter And The Wolf. This led to a whistling interlude on the panel, but no resolution as to Alexandre Desplat’s inspiration.
- A Mexican journalist told Clooney, “You play a part in the erotic fantasies of many women… You are doing something for the mental health of women all over the world.” Clooney thanked her, and asked if she had a question. She didn’t, really.
- The rep from Chinese state news agency Xinhua wondered if Clooney had any words for the folks back home. “To all people in China: Xinhua is nice enough to give every single one of you a free car.”
- What’s the most unpleasant aspect of being in the star system?, Clooney was prodded. “If you hear anybody lucky enough to be in the position we are in, if you heard us complaining, it would be irritating. It would irritate me. I have nothing to complain about, I have a pretty good life.” Goodman wondered, “Wouldn’t counting the money be difficult?”