Set Design in The Grand Budapest Hotel

The sets in Wes Anderson’s films are meticulously crafted down to the finest detail. But I think that in no film of his is this taken to such a degree as in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Looking at the set of the hotel alone, I think there are many examples of very considerate design.

Not only is the hotel, for lack of a better term, grand in its size, variety of rooms, and decoration, it is displayed under three different ownerships across two different time periods. The first version we see is from 1968 under the ownership of Zero Mustafa with the concierge M. Jean.This iteration shows the hotel after World War II and fascism has run its course and the soviet economy has started to stagnate. The hotel in 1968 is very industrial with lots of grey and muted colors. The only kind of symbol associated with it being the initials “GB”.The interior of the hotel is almost unrecognizable from its earlier counterpart. What sticks out the most is the excessive amount of signs littered everywhere throughout the hotel.

The version from 1932 is much more colorful and fun. 

Under the ownership of Madam D. with the concierge M. Gustave, the hotel is devoid of the dreary signs it would eventually be littered with.

 More than just the presence of signs and additions intended to be functional rather than tasteful, the sets have been changed in a way to show the wear and aging effects of the hotel over 26 years.  Curtains have been taken away, a murky blue has replaced purple, signs (of course) have been added, and while the floor has the same pattern, it very much shows the signs of aging.

The third form of the hotel we see is after it is under military control and adorned with the fascist “ZZ” symbol. 

Because this is Wes Anderson, the new symbol of control must extend to the smallest details of the hotel, such as the keys: 

And even the drink garnishes: 

This absolute devotion to the smallest details of the mise-en-scène, especially the modifications made to sets of different time periods, gives the film a high level of scenic realism. The suggestion that time has past and historical events have taken place is very convincing. The carefully crafted sets also contribute to the cognitive engagement of the viewer as there is so much to identify in the background of shots. So much that I feel this blog post could go on forever. Anderson truly outdid himself.

One thing that this makes me want to know is how all of the sets were constructed and where. How many keys were made with the “ZZ” symbol? Can I get one? How far did Anderson’s obsession with detail go? But really, at what point does it become unnecessary?

Awhile ago I found the story of a movie that has been in the making for 10 years on a set the size of a small city. I highly recommend reading it to see just how out of control a set and production can get.

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