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The Grand Budapest Hotel (2013)

An exquisite place with concealed torments `

Wes Anderson gives us a meticulous filmmaking at the junction of several types of cinema : comedy, adventure, burlesque, drama and detective.

The story is outlined as a mise en abyme and three different formats : in 1.37:1 for the 30's period, in a wide anamorphic format for the 60's period sequences, and in 1.85:1.

The first page is one of the book written by the author, the second one is the anecdotal story of the origin of his book in voice over, the third one is the tale made by Zero Mustapha, former Mr Gustave's lobby boy. They all put together as a parallel editing.

The burlesque sequence of the author who speaks directly in front of the camera and bothered by his grandson calmly explains that he's going to tell an unexpected story, and that is the least that can be said.

The wide shots of the hotel « this enchanting old ruin », with a cable car which leads there, are made using a model. Some sequences are shot using stop motion, which adds to the surrealistic dimension, but also to a nostalgic one.

Then the inside is revealed : a rather deserted place where talking become infrequent, a huge dining room for few guests and the author in his younger days who has the blank page syndrome. It's in this atmosphere that he gets to meet Mustapha Zero : he will, through a flashback, tell him the story of the hotel.

The story is divided into several parts (five), with their titles displayed. This reminds the structure of a play and emphasizes the unrealisticly spectacular dimension of this feature film. The first part is dedicated to Mr Gustave, maître d’hôtel of the Grand Budapest in 1932, played by the splendid Ralph Fiennes, giving us a flawless performance. He's someone very mannered, paying close attention to every detail (eg : he notices a different nail polish applied when Mrs D. is in her coffin) and who seduces with delicate words, passionate about poetry. Despite this, he doesn't hide having relationships with very old women, he has sometimes coarse words which contrasts with his delicate sentences.

The flow of the story results in a flood of tracking shots, front, back, sidelong. The use of wide-angle shots and the symmetry of shots added to the one of saturated colors give a very artificial finish, but not superficial.

As a matter of fact, a historical dimension with a return to the Second World War come up through clever details : Wes Anderson first chooses to broach the theme in a very implicit way. By the way, no character tell anything clearly about that topic. They talk a lot, but the adventures they go through serve as excuses, they're actually very reserved when it comes to the actual situation they're in. « ZZ » boards put up in the hotel is reminiscent of the Nazi SS, the prisoners remind us of the Jewish prison camps, as recalled by Dmitri (who, by the way, brings devilish Hitler to mind), Mr Gustave seems to be bisexual and thus reminds us of one of the targets of the hatred of the Nazis, a title in a newpaper announced that the war has begun, and that's on that day when Mrs D. died : her death has triggered a series of events, hates, people growing closer, imprisonments, collaboration with the network of the maîtres d'hôtel, just like the war was a triggering element of all kind of sadness, tragedy, escape, individuals getting closer, solidarity.

The director uses this reserve to produce a nostalgic atmosphere through unsaid things (Zero doesn't insist on his feelings, he cries despite himself but doesn't expand on past details) rather than crudely and explicitly stressing on elements which would make the intention more serious. Furthermore, the music composed by Alexandre Desplat, divided into themes, is delightful and almost "cartoonesque" because exotic and at odds with reality (use of cimbalom, zither, balalaika, organ, liturgical music) and, once more, nostalgic. This discrepancy gives the audience the possibility to have a quirky humor.

Wes Anderson gambles with balance and delicacy : he uses the burlesque, particularly during the sequence of the escape of the prisoners which seems absolutely impossible, just like the one of the future victims of the Holocaust was. He masterfully manages to immerse us into a universe where implicit details, make us forget a darker reality.


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