The film, The Grand Budapest Hotel by Wes Anderson, tells the story of exemplary concierge Gustave H and his lobby boy, Zero Moustafa. We watch as these two kindred spirits take on the conspiracy surrounding the mysterious death of Madame D, one of Gustave’s many lovers, and the disappearance of her last will and testament. Despite wonderful acting and an engaging plot, I found the most interesting aspect of this movie to be that we are viewing it through the imagination of a girl, who is reading a book, about the story the author was told by Zero many years later. I greatly appreciated how Anderson used mise-en-scéne throughout the film to portray these layers of the story and to show the viewer that, despite the story belonging to Zero, we are seeing it through the imagination of a reader.
Anderson does not keep the fact that this story comes from a book hidden. In fact, the very first shot we see of the Grand Budapest Hotel is of it depicted as a drawing. Here Anderson sets the stage for the entire film and rather than use a realistic image, he chooses to use one that would belong in a picture book. This decision cooperates with the fairytale nature of the story and adds an air of fiction to what is meant to be a miraculous, but nonetheless non-fiction, series of events. Anderson also has continuous reminders of this movie coming from a book with slides to open each of the four parts of the story.
Similar to a book with chapters, these slides add pause to the story and serve as cliffhangers. For example, two of the slides (for part’s 1 and 4) even cut off the dialogue mid-sentence. All of these design aspects of the transitions between scenes prove to the viewer that we are not just seeing Zero’s story, we are experiencing it through a book as well.
In addition to the story being presented in the modality of literature, it is also represented through the imagination of the reader. This peaks through in various scenes where, rather than display the actual events, Anderson shows a version of these events through the imagination of a reader.
A great example is when Zero is relaying the speech to the hotel staff that Gustave gave him. But when Gustave’s perspective is shown, it is not of him writing a note to Zero, it is the picture as shown above of Gustave speaking aloud at a podium. With the prisoners on the left, the guards on the right, and even a GB (the hotel’s symbol) on the podium, it is clear this is a fantasy image. Here and in other fantasy depictions of the events in the story, we are made aware that the story is being given to us after passing through the reader’s imagination. This is an enjoyable tactic because it creates some of the most entertaining images, such as the sequence where Gustave and Zero sled down the mountain, and provides an explanation for some of the most ridiculous images.
Despite having seen The Grand Budapest Hotel many times I never noticed the influence of the many layers of people who are hearing and repeating the story. The story is originally Zero’s, but having it represented by a book and also by the imagination of the reader changed aspects of the film. It would be intriguing to explore how all of the different layers affect the story, considering that we are seeing the events of the story after possible manipulations from Zero as the storyteller, the author who wrote the book, and the girl who is reading the book. What would this film have looked like if it we’re based entirely in reality without any changes added by the many storytellers? Would it be as entertaining? Personally, I really enjoy the way that Anderson chooses to tell the story and think that the addition of manipulations from each storyteller, similar to a story passed down over time, makes the adventure of Gustave and Zero legendary.