It’s funny to think one of the most honest movies about families stars stop-motion foxes.
Then again, when you know Fantastic Mr. Fox was helmed by none other than Wes Anderson, it’s no surprise that the ins and outs of family have been explored with wit and earnestness. His newest movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel, doesn’t have any foxes voiced by George Clooney, but that doesn’t mean Anderson doesn’t strive again for the same nuance underneath the grand theatrics.
The magnificence of the acclaimed filmmaker’s eighth feature film comes from both onscreen and off. Some critics have called this his most ambitious work to date, covering various time periods, a huge ensemble cast, and heavy themes reinforced by a sharp sense of humor. It’s also his bloodiest movie yet, which Anderson finds amusing. With all the fascists at this party — attended by a stellar cast too long-winded to namecheck — it makes sense there’s more blood drawn in this crime picture than any of his previous movies.
Set in the fictionalized Republic of Zubrowka, we meet Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), a hotshot hotel concierge thrown into a manhunt, after he has the death of Madame D (Tilda Swinton) pinned on him, by her criminal son, Dmitri (Adrien Brody). With the help of his lobby boy (Tony Revolori) and others, he’s out to prove his innocence.
Along his journey a handful of Anderson regulars make appearances, but there’s a new face in the Andersonverse at the center of it all: Ralph Fiennes.
The writer/director felt the actor who played Voldemort was the key to making this gregarious man a relatable human being. For Fiennes, the process of finding Monsieur Gustave lasted the entire production. “I didn’t know how Wes wanted it pitched because it’s a part that could be portrayed campy,” says Fiennes during a series of roundtable interviews we attended. “We did lots and lots of takes, so there’s a whole other Gustave out there.”
Fiennes consistently joked about doing all of those takes, commenting every now and then how many were required. He may have protested a bit too much, but in truth, the repetition work didn’t bother the actor since, as he went on to say, the best kind of director is one that acknowledges the limitless amount of options for how a scene or line can be played. The Monsieur Gustave H. that made the final film is brimming with eloquence, personality, and an unforgettable laugh.
Although creating Gustave was an ongoing process on the set, “finding the movie” isn’t Anderson’s style. “It’s pretty much done as written,” says Anderson’s grizzled veteran Bill Murray. “There’s this third-dimension thing where, when you put it on its feet, something is required that wasn’t there. You go, ‘Oh, I have to get from here to there.’ Most edits in movies are audio cuts, so you have to figure out how to aurally end something.” Only a few changes are made on Anderson’s sets, and one of the few deviations is typically camerawork. The distinct camerawork often lead to goofy takes, but when it comes to notable alterations, that’s about it.
On that front, Anderson and cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman‘s ambitiousness earn high praise. “[In one scene] The camera has to whip pan 90 degrees and not be seen to jiggle. It’s an incredibly difficult camera operation Wes was asking for, and it’s impressive to see it,” says Fiennes. There were several instances, and one scene in particular, that Fiennes was challenged by, having to keep up with the frequently busy eye of Anderson’s speedy camerawork.
Not only does story and character dictate that energetic camerawork, but Anderson learned a lesson on Moonrise Kingdom that he and Yeoman applied to The Grand Budapest Hotel: an actor’s height matters. When filming a bunch of kids running around the woods, Anderson found a way to do it with less crew and time involved. “There are these cameras that you can hand hold — which are these 16mm cameras that you don’t put on your shoulder, you hold them underhanded — and it’s just a better way to shoot someone who is small, if you’re going to do a lot of handheld shots like we did,” Anderson explains.
Murray believes, because of the toys at Anderson’s disposal, that it also makes Anderson and the actors’ jobs easier. “If you’re in the midst of it, you’re a part of it. You’re like the little flower in the picture. You just need to be a resident voice and speak the lines.”
In this particular picture, there is a world fading away, a time where lobby boys and chivalry mattered. Some of these characters were born in the wrong era, namely Monsieur Gustave, and that sentiment applies to almost all of Anderson’s former old-fashioned characters: they’re cutoff from the rest of the world, whether by personality or by fashion.
“It’s a neverthought,” Anderson laughs, when it comes to the themes that tie his work together. “I don’t really want to think about themes, I want to think about the experience of the movie. As soon as I reduce it to a theme, it won’t be that great. There’s more potential for it to mean something interesting if I’m not forcing it to mean something I’ve already decided.”
What Anderson is aware of is how he follows worlds of his own (or his characters’) creation, and yet it all genuinely derives from a grand sense of realism. “On one hand, usually the characters I’m writing are inspired by people in real life one way or the other and I’m doing something that relates to my own experience, my own interest,” Anderson explains. “Nevertheless, the dialogue and the writing ends up being not entirely naturalistic, and not by my choice. I feel like it needs its own world to exist in.” We’re not lucky enough to live in a world dictated by Wes Anderson’s personal and aesthetic interests, where we all dress with panache and everything is decorated with absolute perfection. Still, in Anderson’s best moments as a filmmaker, we relate to his characters, no matter how fantastical their situations might be or how radical their facial hair.
For the Texas-born filmmaker, The Grand Budapest Hotel, like all of his former projects, represents his interests at a certain time in his life. How one’s fascination becomes piqued by a famous concierge on the run in the early 20th century is a mystery, but whatever influenced Anderson’s passion for his eighth feature film is something we should all be thankful for. Without that initial spark of Anderson’s imagination, we wouldn’t have The Grand Budapest Hotel, a place no sane man, woman, or child would ever want to leave.
The Grand Budapest Hotel opens in theaters March 7th.
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