Wes Anderson’s new film is called The Grand Budapest Hotel and like all his others, it is a quirky, visual treat that will leave you smiling.
The story orbits a fictional East European/Alpine resort hotel in 1932, told in flashback by a visiting English writer in Iron Curtain-era 1968, long gone are the edifice’s best days. There are many well-known accomplished actors playing exquisite roles, such as Harvey Keitel playing a lifelong convict, Ed Norton as chief Gestapo and Ralph Fiennes as the lead in role Gustave, the hotel’s charming concierge.
The plot is something of a caper, as Gustave inherits a valuable painting from a countess he has befriended over the years (played by Tilda Swinton above), with the surviving family more than a little bitter over their mother’s relationship with the concierge. Hijinks ensue as Gustave enlists his trusty lobby boy Zero to help snatch the painting and hide it from the family’s assassin played by Willem Dafoe.
The story is fantastic, and along with the music and intoxicating production design, this film delivers a great escape on a rainy Spring day.
The production designer is Adam Stockhausen, who puts together a great pastiche of old-World Europe and Cold War-era cues to create something very unique. There is a big clash between older building shell and some newer detail shots that clearly came from another real-life interior. Contrast the shot of the 1932 main desk above with the 1968 conceierge’s desk below.
The latter shot reminds me of 1960’s hotels in Italian and German spa towns. It seems incongruous to have both scenes coming from the same building, but the director naturally uses the modern renovations in the 1968 flashback scenes, heightening the “loss of grandeur” feeling of the hotel in it’s fading years. The 1932 shots are full of people, traditional dress and accompanied by sweeping music. The 1968 scenes are empty, somber and reflective.
The main interior scenes were shot at the Görlitzer Warenhaus, an Art Deco (Jugendstil) masterpiece department store in Berlin that somehow survived the war intact.
The visual feast is not just in color and escapist scenery, but by using interesting camera angles and framing conversations in creative, non-natural ways as to embrace the fairy tale feeling of adventure. Anderson uses this type of square-on shot in his film over and over, to create a unique look to the entire piece. Here Zero and his chocolatier paramour embrace amidst boxes of chocolates.
As I mentioned to a friend of mine recently, there seems to be a lot of interest in pre-WWII European life and stories in English-language film and TV. I feel a romanticism for this “between” era, with the still visible aristocratic history facing the loss-of-innocence early 20th-century, just before the old Europe gets swept away. Anderson really puts this feeling in perspective with his film, especially by using the Communist-era styling as a contrast to the glory days before the war. Iron Curtain architecture, product design and culture is something of a trend right now, as more and more people are starting to embrace it’s quirky, “efficient” style. More than anything, this film made me want to jump on my bicycle and tour Eastern Europe, before all these old buildings get torn down!
A scene from the film showing an elaborate bath from the “original” hotel building.
And finally, a scene showing the filmmaker during an interview, in the “modern” lobby from 1968. Truthfully, I love both of these styles so much. How I love these rich orange and brown 1960s interiors.
All of the above photos are from Fox Searchlight as part of their online promotion. Go see the film and escape to a charming world of 20th-Century fantasy.
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