The Use of Color and Lighting to Further the Nested Narrative Structure in The Grand Budapest Hotel

In Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, the colors of the set and costuming, and the lighting elements are used prominently to further the nested narrative structure particularly as it conveys nostalgia and highlights its distorting effects on perception. This is most clear in the contrast between the present day, the author’s conversation with Zero in the nineteen sixties, and Zero’s story which takes place in the nineteen thirties.

The set design of the present day is filled with drab colors and natural lighting, creating a high degree of scenic realism while the set design of the nineteen thirties appears exaggerated, lessening the scenic realism and supporting its existence as a story by Zero. The set design of the Grand Budapest Hotel in the film conveys a authentic-feeling early nineteen hundreds opulence. The set of the hotel lobby is laid out with prominent liberal use of regal colors, vermilion carpets and elevators and Tyrian purple and gold uniforms, as well as the use of high key lighting with pink and white walls to further saturate the image. The color palate and lighting seem to create an effect as though the lobby is being viewed through rose-colored glasses.

This is heavily contrasted with the duller color palate and less warm lighting of the nineteen sixties, adding an increased element of realism. Interestingly, the lighting and color palate in this subsection of the narrative shifts to warmer colors and lower and softer lighting as Zero’s story to the author progresses as if to show the author’s growing familiarity with Zero.

This positive nostalgia effect is further conveyed by the overly congenial and charming performance of the Ralph Fiennes as Monsieur Gustave. Fiennes performance uses commanding body language, particularly standing straight, dismissive hand gestures, and fluid transitions between underlings and esteemed guests, to show Monsieur Gustave’s reassuring mastery of his job and his eccentric leadership. These combined to further Zero’s positive view of his former mentor.

How do the dark color palates of the military contrast with the hotel, particularly when it is requisitioned? Why is the final scene with Gustave shot in black and white? What do Wes Anderson’s choices say about the effects of nostalgia on our perception of the past? Why are main characters’ deaths (Gustave and Agatha) off screen? What is the narrative impact of this choice?

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