Berlin Film Festival opens with late actor Hoffman a noted absence

Thu Feb 6, 2014 3:00pm EST
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By Michael Roddy

BERLIN (Reuters) - The death of celebrated American character actor Philip Seymour Hoffman of an apparent drug overdose dampened the opening on Thursday of the 64th Berlin film festival where director Wes Anderson's comedy "The Grand Budapest Hotel" had its premiere.

Anderson's historical fiction stars Ralph Fiennes as a famous concierge who woos octogenarian blonde widows at an alpine hotel in a made-up Central European country in the 1930s.

It amused a press audience but there was no escaping the absence of Hoffman, whose death at 46 last week in New York City after apparently injecting heroin has rattled the cinema world.

Hoffman had been meant to attend the prestigious Berlin event to promote his Sundance festival film "God's Pocket". Jury president and film producer and screenwriter James Schamus said Hoffman would still be there in spirit.

"That news was pretty tough on all of us," Schamus told a news conference with all the jury members present.

"Philip Seymour Hoffman will be here...and I know that a lot of his friends are going to be joining together to remember him. It's places like Berlin that provide a place to remember, mourn and celebrate and I think you can rest assured he will be here."

Anderson's film, with a star-studded cast including Ralph Fiennes, Bill Murray, F. Murray Abraham and English actress Tllda Swinton, as well as the relatively unknown and young Tony Revolori of California and the Irish actress Saoirse Ronan ("Atonement"), is one of 23 movies in competition, of which 20 are under consideration for the festival's Golden Bear trophy which will be awarded on February 15.

Anderson, who has made a string of eccentric comedies including "The Royal Tenenbaums", "The Life Aquatic" and "Moonrise Kingdom", said that for this film, shot at a German hotel on the Czech-Polish border, he had been inspired by the works of the Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig, who established his reputation in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s.   Continued...

Actors Willem Dafoe, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, director Wes Anderson, Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Saoirse Ronan, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Murray (L-R) pose to promote the movie "The Grand Budapest Hotel" at the 64th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin February 6, 2014. REUTERS/Thomas Peter