Surreal Visual Elements in The Grand Budapest Hotel

In Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, the director juxtaposes his manufactured reality with quaint, fantastical, and often humorous bouts of surrealism that emphasize the narrative nature of the film’s story.  The film operates with two (or perhaps three, if one includes the screen) degrees of separation between the viewer and its primary subjects.  Anderson uses fantastical pseudo-realism to give Zero’s recollections of M. Gustave, told to the Young Writer and later written and read by an unnamed girl, a sense of whimsy and stylistic freedom.  However, Anderson structures the set in a way that the occasional snap from reality does not lead the viewer to lose trust in the heart of authenticity of the character’s situations.  Many scenes depict characters riding in machinery shown from a distance in a very obvious staging of miniature sets, such as the outdoor elevator depicted below.

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Though this is clearly a break from realism, the viewer is left to believe that the characters, in spite of their interaction with surreal visual elements, remain rooted in the story’s reality.  These visual elements contribute to the framing of the story within the slightly surreal backdrop of Zero’s memory.  The viewer trusts the essence of the story Mr. Moustafa tells, but also recognizes the imprecise nature of recalled memories, especially those skewed so heavily with emotion.  This can be seen in the bronze hue of shots of the Grand Budapest at the height of its operation, illustrating the perhaps idealized memory of a place so dear to the storyteller.  It is also shown when Zero helps M. Gustave escape from prison, as Gustave offers Zero high praise and the screen’s perimeter becomes blurred and hazy.  This shift in framing suggests that Zero may have romanticized his mentor’s remarks to emphasize the nature of their relationship to the audience.

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Can the viewer truly trust the recollections of Mr. Moustafa?  Do you think that the surreal visual elements are used primarily to contribute to the fantasy of a memory?  Are they perhaps meant to create to a tone of whimsy and understated humor?

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