“Nymphomaniac” is the new film by Lars von Trier (in glasses), with Uma Thurman, far left, Christian Slater and Stellan Skarsgard.
BERLIN — From Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” a tender, urbane caper set in a lost world of interwar Europe, to George Clooney’s “The Monuments Men,” in which the Allies try to save priceless art from the Nazis, Europe’s past — real, imagined, unresolved — is very present at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival.
Now in its 64th edition, the festival, known as the Berlinale, opened here on Thursday with the well-received premiere of Mr. Anderson’s latest. It stars Ralph Fiennes channeling Noël Coward, if Coward were a concierge, and is the first film in which Mr. Anderson has set one of his painstakingly selected fictional tableaus against the backdrop of history.
As he raced up the back stairs to escape the after-party, held in a nightclub with a large disco ball under the festival’s main auditorium, Mr. Anderson said that he had been inspired to create the film eight years ago, after reading works by the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig (1881-1942), whose novels and memoirs capture a vanished Europe. The film is set in a fictional Eastern European country called Zubrowka.
“I wanted to do something Zweig,” Mr. Anderson said. Two years ago, he added, he decided to combine his Zweig idea with a separate concept about a stolen painting. Collaborating with the New York-based artist and writer Hugo Guinness, “we wrote it pretty quickly after that,” he added.
Back downstairs at the party, waiters brought around trays of pastel pastries inspired by the film’s plot, and musicians played balalaikas. James Schamus, the screenwriter and independent film producer who is chairman of the festival’s international jury this year, chatted with Tilda Swinton. In Mr. Anderson’s movie, she plays an octogenarian heiress who looks as if she stepped out of a Klimt painting.
Mr. Schamus said that what set Berlin apart from Cannes, another major European film festival, is that the public was invited, and that moviegoers often waited outside in the cold to buy tickets. Last year, the Berlinale, held at sites throughout this city, sold a record 300,000 tickets.
During the lengthy opening ceremony on Thursday, which was broadcast on national television, Mr. Schamus deftly said that America had learned a lot from Germany over the years, also by listening in on its phone calls — a reference to widespread outrage here over information made public by Edward J. Snowden revealing that the National Security Agency had tapped the phone of the German chancellor Angela Merkel.
In a sign of how intense the issue has become, a January interview with Mr. Snowden by a German journalist and filmmaker will be screened on Monday as part of the festival.
Historic tensions between the United States and Germany were also the theme on Saturday, with the European premiere of “The Monuments Men,” directed by and starring Mr. Clooney. The United States ambassador to Germany, John B. Emerson, attended, as did Monika Grütters, the German minister whose portfolio includes culture, and other German officials.
Both “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The Monuments Men” were partly shot at Studio Babelsberg, the largest film production center in Germany, and the high-profile diplomatic presence also indicates how Germany hopes to attract more foreign film productions. The festival started in 1951 on the initiative of the American military administration in Germany. It is financed largely by the German government and includes an extensive film market and coproduction market.
At a news conference on Saturday, Mr. Clooney waded into the thorny issue of art repatriation. Asked his advice for Greece, whose Classical antiquities have been on display in the British Museum, the Louvre and other European collections for centuries, Mr. Clooney said he thought that Greece “had a pretty good case” for getting its art back.
On Tuesday, another World War II-era film, “Diplomacy,” by the German director Volker Schlöndorff, will debut here. Set in 1944, it explores how the Swedish consul general in Paris, Raoul Nordling, helped persuade the Nazi military governor of Paris, Dietrich von Choltitz, not to obey Hitler’s orders to destroy the historic city should it fall into enemy hands.
Mr. Schlöndorff said that today was a perfect time for Europe to re-examine the power of diplomacy.
“At a moment when Europe is questioning a lot of anti-Europe sentiment and demagogy, just imagine if we Germans had blown up Paris and destroyed it in the same way as Warsaw, if there ever would have been the possibility of a reconciliation within Europe,” he said. “Certainly not with a French-German tandem,” he added as he greeted well wishers after a screening of his 1969 made-for-television film “Baal,” starring a young Rainer Werner Fassbinder and based on a play by Bertolt Brecht, whose estate had forbade its broadcast until now.
Mr. Schlöndorff said “Diplomacy,” which is not in competition, was dedicated to his friend, the American diplomat Richard C. Holbrooke, who died in 2010, and who had regaled him with stories about his negotiations with the Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic to end the war in Bosnia. “Every means, including lies, is permitted,” Mr. Schlöndorff said. “The means of diplomacy are no cleaner than those of war, they’re just a little less deadly.”
Several of the films at this year’s festival also touched on themes of gay rights. “Love Is Strange,” directed by Ira Sachs, stars John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as a gay couple who marry in New York. At a news conference, Mr. Lithgow said that the film was not propaganda, but that he hoped it would send a message from Berlin to Russia, where repression of gay rights has been an issue underlying the Winter Olympics.
To promote his latest film, “Nymphomaniac,” a sexually explicit two-part drama starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard and Shia LaBeouf that is showing out of competition here, the Danish director Lars von Trier posed for photos on Sunday in a T-shirt with the logo of the Cannes Film Festival, from which he was banned after making Hitler jokes there in 2011. He did not stay to talk to the news media here, and Mr. LaBeouf walked out of the news conference after enigmatically saying, “When the sea gulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.”