*Warning, this article contains spoilers for Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel*
The Grand Budapest Hotel is a beautiful comedy/drama set in a hyper realistic world in a fictional European country on the verge of war, where a prestigious and beautiful hotel is run by the charming Gustave H. Gustave takes in a young lobby boy named Zero, and trains him to be as good a lobby boy as he once was himself. Gustave prides himself on his work and will do anything to keep his guests happy, including having sexual relationships with his elderly guests. When one of these lovers passes away and leaves a priceless painting to him in her will, Gustave becomes the chief suspect in her murder, and Zero must help him escape from a lifetime in prison.
Mr. Gustave is clearly very lonely; living in a tiny hotel room and eating alone at a table for one every day, his only companions being those older and lonelier than himself -of whom he chooses to comfort, whether it is for his own sake or theirs being unknown. He describes these people as “rich, old, insecure, vain, superficial, blonde and needy” -statements that, interestingly enough, could be applied to himself. The only difference being that he doesn’t get the chance to grow old, possibly being the only thing that prevents him from becoming just like the people he’s spent his life attempting to comfort. When Zero talks about Gustave, he implies that the world he builds within the hotel was nothing short of an illusion, a bubble that preserves the once promising, luxurious place that was destroyed by war. ‘To be frank, I think his world had ended long before he’d even entered it. But I’ll say, he certainly sustained the illusion with a marvellous grace’. Gustave himself even hints at how he hates what the world around him is becoming, commenting that "There are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity."
We see Zero and Gustave’s wonderful friendship develop throughout the film, both through heartwarming dialogue and subtle gestures. It is well known that Gustav always keeps his prized perfume close by, and it is suggested that he leaves the scent wherever he goes, similar to how he leaves his essence wherever he goes and with whomever he meets. Sharing this perfume with Zero alludes to him finally letting him in, which seems to be a first for Gustave, who is implied to be a very lonely and superficial character. When Zero calls him his brother, it signifies that he also can trust him, which carries a lot of weight; especially after losing his family to the war and being completely alone. Their developing friendship is also displayed through the use of cinematography and the character's positions in each frame. In the beginning of the film, Zero is often in the background of the shot behind Gustav, like in the first mid-shot where Zero is explaining that he is the new lobby boy, and when they are walking through the hotel lobby during the interview scene. As their friendship develops, they share the same space equally in each shot.
Wes Anderson was very creative when creating the world that The Grand Budapest Hotel is set in, majorly reducing the budget as he did so. Miniature models were created of buildings that are seen from a distance, rather than using real settings or CGI. The interior of the hotel was all created from an abandoned department store with talented art directors, who went on to win an Oscar for their creation. The interior moving train shots were filmed with a cardboard backdrop on a track that was moving in a field, to create the effect of the scenery passing by the window, which was much cheaper and quicker than using a real train carriage. The quirky ski slope scene was filmed on camera that was shot down a miniature ski slope that was built along with the other miniature sets. Anderson created a whole world rather than just a movie; there were even unique signs, trains and currency all created for the film.
The movie is extremely artistic and picturesque, praised for its use of mise en scene; becoming Wes Anderson’s most popular film in the UK. Wes Anderson is well known for using perfectly symmetrical shots, breaking the rule of thirds to have characters/action happen in the centre of frame. Often the attention is drawn away from the main characters in the shot to something else in the scene, like the roof vent being the centre focus whilst Zero sneaks out of Agatha’s room. His work mirrors a photograph or painting, rather than a shot from a movie, with saturated colours and beautiful set design. Wes Anderson is artistically brilliant, with beautiful tracking shots and switch pan shots to different characters. The aspect ratio was even cleverly used to mirror that of what was used in each time period; the 60’s period scenes were shot in wideframe and the 30’s period were shot in square frame.
The Grand Budapest Hotel has a mixture of comedy and sadness that was intended to mirror the life and work of Austrian author Stefan Zweig, whom Wes Anderson was inspired by. Zweig’s literature was all based off his life in Europe before the war, and how he saw his home deteriorate from what was once a beautiful picturesque place as the war began. He wrote of the grand hotels he stayed in across Europe. Mr Gustave represents the longing of the past that Stefan Zweig battled with throughout the war and his adult life. The movie comes to a tragic ending, much like the author’s life; Stefan Zweig and his wife took their own lives once they felt like there was nothing left for them.
Wes Anderson utilises lighting and colour to portray emotion and evolving feelings throughout the film. A good example of this is in the scene where Zero and the author are talking, and the lighting changes and his face is doused in shadow. Later this happens, and when the lighting comes back up, we see a close up of Zero and realise that he is crying. Lighting is later used to portray a character’s developing feelings in the scene when we see a close up of Agatha’s face from Zero’s perspective. We see soft, colourful lighting moving around her and lighting her profile in different colours as Zero begins falling in love with her; the audience is being shown that he is viewing her differently. The realisation of his feelings happens when the proverbial and physical lights come on.
The most drastic use of colour in the movie (or the lack thereof) is in the scene when Mr Gustave is shot; the scene is mirrors the first scene in the train car with Zero, when they are threatened by soldiers but ultimately get away. This time, the scene is black and white -most importantly, it is the only scene in an otherwise colourful film that is in black and white. The scene is devout of colour and warmth in a film that is extremely warm and colourful, and we instantly realise that this altercation won’t end as safely as the last one did. This lack of colour also mirrors Zweig’s view of Europe post-war, all of the warmth and beauty was gone from his once picturesque home.
At the end of the film, Zero talks about Gustav’s death and states ‘so it all went to me’, and the camera zooms out to show the empty, run down hotel, alluding to the idea that he was left with the same loneliness that Gustav had. Things were never the same without him, and Zero could never recreate the illusion of Gustave’s world as well as Gustave could, which is why the place came to its downfall. Gustave was the life and soul of the hotel and without him, it was doomed. The present day description we hear of the hotel we hear is "It was an enchanting old ruin...", one of the many relics left of this fictional European land before it was struck by war.