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Berlin: The Longest Day for 'Monuments Men'

Photo of Tom Christie By Tom Christie | Thompson on Hollywood February 8, 2014 at 8:37PM

You certainly can’t blame Clooney and his band of merry men. Flanked by Matt Damon and Bill Murray, John Goodman and Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville and Jean Dujardin, Clooney joked and smiled through a series of increasingly inane questions that culminated in a female Mexican journalist asking, apparently in earnest, if the movie star realizes how large a role he plays in the erotic fantasies of women around the world.
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"Monuments Men"
"Monuments Men"

George Clooney must be feeling that his “Monuments Men” is just a bit doomed. About 20 minutes into the Berlinale screening, people suddenly began shouting, “Stop the movie!” No, it wasn’t commentary, a journalist was suffering some sort of heart event and the screening was stopped while he was attended to. Festival director Dieter Kosslick later announced to the waiting (and waiting) press-conference attendees that the journalist was in the hospital and doing well. That was the good news. And then the press conference began.

You certainly can’t blame Clooney and his band of merry men. Flanked by Matt Damon and Bill Murray, John Goodman and Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville and Jean Dujardin, Clooney joked and smiled through a series of increasingly inane questions that culminated in a female Mexican journalist asking, apparently in earnest, if the movie star realizes how large a role he plays in the erotic fantasies of women around the world. Bill Murray, who can always be counted on to say the right thing, deadpanned, “Who is that question for?” Eventually, the sheepish Clooney said, “Oh, I thought you were going to ask a question!” and then smiled the sort of smile that puts him atop the erotic fantasies of women around the world. 

'Monuments Men' Conga Line
'Monuments Men' Conga Line

And then it was on to questions about which cities in Brazil Clooney would like to visit during the World Cup (since he’s a soccer fan), and what he thought about the people of Sachsen-Anhalt, a “Monuments Men” location. Clooney did his diplomatic best, and tried to spread the answering around, even once saying, “There’s more people on this panel!” But the others were mostly left to sit and listen – or create a little action for themselves. When one questioner suggested that the movie business was about money, Goodman cried out in mock surprise, “What?!,” and grabbed his head, mugging, “Noooooooooo.” 

Everyone laughed except for, oddly, producer-writer Grant Heslov. Maybe he’d been reading the numbers for “Monuments Men” back in the States, not to mention the bad reviews, including a rather hysterical take-down in the Washington Post by art critic Philip Kennicott. Heslov isn’t the only one reading, of course. Some Fox suits were in the audience, and when someone asked Clooney one of those absurdly unanswerable questions – how he could explain the recent discovery of 400 banned art works in Munich – the director winkingly said that Fox’s monuments men had managed to keep the news out of the public for three years. That’s not so far from the truth, actually, only it was the German government’s monuments men who kept it out of the news.

Meanwhile, a couple of more serious questions found their way to the microphones, including one on South Sudan from the ubiquitous mumbling gentleman from the African Refugee News – no, he is not an invention of Evelyn Waugh – and another asking about Clooney’s interest in the political situation in the Ukraine. His answer sounded like something straight out of Waugh, and yet he was dead serious: “Of course we know the Klitschko brothers from 'Oceans Eleven' and keep in touch sometimes.” (The boxer Vitali Klitschko, whose brother Wladimir appeared in that film, is now an opposition leader in Ukraine.)

Finally, a Greek reporter wondered if Clooney had a proposal for how Greece could get its cherished art works back from Britain. (Cue Hugh Bonneville to look uncomfortable, as if he might be called upon to answer on behalf of Britain and fans of “Downton Abbey” around the world.) Ever the diplomat, after making a predictable joke about never having a proposal, the perennial bachelor nodded and said that Greece probably has a good case, and getting the Elgin Marbles back probably would be a good idea, yeah. This led to a headline in Variety, “George Clooney Tells Britain to Return Art Treasures,” which further inspired a Facebook quip from critic John Powers, “Britain Tells George Clooney to Remake The Monuments Men, Properly This Time.”

Other potential headlines from the press conference: “Bob Balaban Continues to Look Diminutive and Shy, Says Nothing”; “Hugh Bonneville Realizes the Difference Between PBS Celebrity and the Real Thing (and Says Nothing); and “Jean Dujardin Smiles Beautifully While Hating These Fucking Germans for Not Asking Him One Fucking Question.” 

Murray, a gentleman posing as a comedian, did his best, prodding the moderator to ask Bonneville a question. “Look at your face, Jenni, there’s a question there.” But the only question she had was whether Mr. Bonneville would have a glass of champagne with her in the lounge. Murray responded, “Oh no, it can’t always be that question, Jenni, you’ve got to have another one.” But she didn’t and said it was time to go.

“They’re pushing us out for another movie, right?” joshed Clooney. Even film festivals are a business? Nooooooooo. 

Live Stream the press conference here.

This article is related to: Festivals, Berlin International Film Festival, George Clooney, John Goodman, Monuments Men


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.