"The Inherent Magnetism of The Grand Budapest" by Saffron Maeve

February 17, 2018

Wes Anderson’s critically acclaimed The Grand Budapest Hotel is a tour de force. With 218 nominations, nine of which being Academy Award noms, this film is hands down a must see. Few directors have the power and ability to portray a film of this nature with minimal faults. Anderson created, what I deem to be, a perfect film, in which every detail is immaculate and the storyline is inviting.

The physical design of the set was fascinating. First, Anderson researched countless hotels in hopes of finding an unused one to build his set around. However, this task was proven very difficult, as there were not many abandoned hotels, and those that he found did not fit his vision of the set. Eventually, he found an abandoned department store that was so large, that it was a perfect match. After painting, furnishing, and decorating the set to match the 1960s version of the hotel, the filming began. The crew chose to film the post-war, dreary version of the hotel first, so as to be able to strip it back easily and begin composing the hotel’s lavish, lively era. The hotel’s aristocratic nature made it iconic. One can choose to walk away from this film feeling unsatisfied, however, the hotel itself is definitively unforgettable.

Anderson uses different aspect ratios in order to establish the occurring time period. In the opening scene, Anderson uses 16:9 frame to demonstrate that is it modern day, 1985. While showing the hotel in 1968, Anderson uses the anamorphic format (2:39:1) to establish a wide-screen, run-of- the-mill look that thus emphasizes the gloominess of the setting. Most of the film, however, is set in the 4:3 aspect ratio. This creates a square-like frame, like those of the 1930s. This nostalgic imagery sends the viewers right back to the time period that they are watching. Very few films switch frame sizes like this, again making The Grand Budapest Hotel unique and memorable.

The use of colour played a massive role in creating the surreal and idealistic world of Zubrowka. With a pastel pink backdrop, the purple staff uniforms and the red carpets, the hotel came to life. The use of the colour pink, most often associated with fragility and love, was a wonderful and ironic parallel to the violence that ensued during the plot. The film tackles dark and heavy themes like the holocaust, murder, and Zero’s tragic past all while under the guise of a soft pink comedy. It is this level of dramatic irony that distinguishes Anderson from other 21st century directors and artists. However, it was not exclusively colour that showcased this irony, both Mendl’s and Agatha fit the category of externally appearing delicate and sweet but having abilities that deviate from this narrative. For example, Agatha uses Mendl’s pastries to sneak tools into the prison for Gustave to plot his escape, conceals the stolen painting, and hides codes.

Anderson’s use of one point perspectives mirrors those of Stanley Kubrick. It is evident that their styles deviate from one another, however, their use of symmetrical composition serves a similar purpose. Kubrick and Anderson both insert these shots between scenes of panic, to instill restlessness and agitation within the audience. Both directors make the audience inadvertently yearn for more action. While it is arguable that Anderson’s symmetry serves the surface purpose of maintaining his aesthetic, it is undeniable that these shots keep the audience on their toes. The main difference between the two directors’ use of one point perspective is that Kubrick tends to create an atmosphere of horror using long, geometrically mesmerizing shots, whereas Anderson uses wide shots to depict a comedic and simultaneously plush environment.

The thing about The Grand Budapest Hotel that makes it so magnetic is the many story lines that occur all at once. The film starts with an author encountering M. Mustafa, who retells his stories of M. Gustave and his hotel. This quickly accelerates to the mystery of Mme. D’s murder, the acquisition of the iconic painting Boy with Apple, Gustave’s imprisonment, the overthrowing by the ZZ, a romance between Zero and Agatha, and the ultimate demise of Gustave. While immensely tragic, Gustave’s death paints a picture for the audience that is clearer and more detailed than Boy with Apple. Gustave H. was so magnetic and vivid to the audience that he lingered even after his death. Gustave was the embodiment of the Grand Budapest Hotel and thus, the hotel represents him. Once vibrant and desired, but dreary and disregarded, the hotel could never be the same without Gustave’s presence.

Milena Canonero won an Academy Award for her costume design for the film. Each character is distinct from one another, their costumes/appearance greatly playing into this. For example, Madame D’s fashion sense is a mix of eras. She has items (such as her hat and velvet coat) from the “Roaring Twenties” but also wears a dress from the thirties. I believe that this is to show viewers her strong connections to the past or even her inability to let go of it. Perhaps this is why she takes M. Gustave as her lover, being that he is significantly younger than her. When Gustave was in prison, he wore a grey and white striped uniform. People tend to associate this look with jail and prison (pre-orange- jumpsuit-era, of course), however, this style of uniform was never truly adopted in Europe; it was moreso an Americanized entity. So why did Wes Anderson and Milena Canonero choose to include it? Well, being that there is a heavy undertone of Nazism and the Holocaust, the prison uniform was made to look like those that were worn in concentration camps. Yet another tragic detail hidden in the deception of a pastel dream.

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