Week 2 – Viewer: Mise en scène regarding The Grand Budapest Hotel

I want to explore a few aspects of mise en scène in The Grand Budapest Hotel such as color, camera angles, and framing and their effects on the essence of the movie.

Color plays an important role in determining the mood of the film. In the earlier portion of the movie, most of the colors were warm (faded red, orange) – giving the viewers a feeling of comfort and indicating that the events occurring are slower and more relaxed. On the other hand, the colors shown during the latter part of the film include more reds and pinks, which means that the events occurring are more rushed and sharp. These color schemes tell the audience that they should be at the edge of their seats.

The images above show scenes that are more relaxed.

These images above depict scenes that are sharper.

In this film, camera angles were primarily used to show the point of views of the various characters. This allowed the audience to link with the characters and watch the events unfold as if they were one of the characters.

This image shows us the lobby boy’s perspective of looking into the mirror.

A reoccurring type of framing that occurred in the film was symmetry. There were many scenes where everything in the camera’s scope was symmetrical. The filmmakers probably chose to showcase symmetry often in order to emphasize the strictness and uniform nature of the characters and time era. The following images are examples of symmetry in the film.

Week 2: Reading/Viewing

If you would like to read more about Wes Anderson and mise-en-scène, check out Sunhee Lee, “Wes Anderson’s ambivalent film style: the relation between mise-en-scène and emotion,” New Review of Film and Television Studies, 2016 VOL. 14, NO. 4, 409–439.

Film historian David Bordwell goes long on Anderson’s use of aspect ratios in GBH.

Clips viewed in class:

“By A Waterfall,” from Footlight Parade (Lloyd Bacon and Busby Berkeley, 1933): [more info on Berkeley here]

Bicycles Thieves (Vittorio De Sica, 1948), an example of Italian Neorealism [whole film is below in two parts]:

A look at the digital effects employed in The Grand Budapest Hotel:




The Influence of the Storyteller

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.

Mise-en-Scène in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Wes Anderson’s film, The Grand  Budapest Hotel (2014), is a fantastic journey into a fictional world that closely resembles Europe during World War II. Due to its unrealistic and colorful design elements, the picture of the film could be described as a series of paintings.  The elements located inside the paintings contribute to the film’s themes of nostalgia and kinship. These elements, known as mise-en-scène, include character costumes, props, set design, and staging.

Constantly present throughout the film is vibrant color and beautiful set design that becomes even more apparent when the perspective shifts from the unknown author to Moustafa, a former employee and current owner of the slightly rundown hotel the author is staying at. He shares the story of how he became the owner of the hotel, and his story is incredibly nostalgic. As he tells his story the set of the hotel changes, no longer is it rundown, it becomes extremely colorful and bold.  In his memories, unlike present day, there are dozens of employees. These employees and their purple velvet costumes are used as props by Anderson to represent Moustafa’s feelings of esteem towards the former hotel and its staff. Moustafa is part of this staff. He is the lobby boy and under the tutelage of the head concierge Gustave. Moustafa remembers Gustave fondly and portrays him well in his memories; however, Gustave is a womanizer and incredibly vain. Anderson uses Gustave’s perfume as a prop which represents Moustafa’s nostalgic willingness to cover Gustaves many character flaws.  As Gustave and Moustafa go on their adventure, there are many points which the characters look through small windows. This shows that the narrator is framing their adventure, keeping it forever as a painting that is incredibly valuable.  That relates to the main plot, where the painting is the most valuable object which Gustave could inherit.

Another theme supported by mise-en-scène is kinship through occupation and dedication.  Gustave’s regal costume design and flamboyant appearance makes him seem like the conductor of the hotel, Moustafa immediate becomes the lobby boy when Gustave learns Moustafa does not a family.  Since the staging Anderson uses has Gustave and Moustafa constantly in the same frame, the lobby boy hat becomes a prop for tutelage. It is implied that Gustave becomes his only family. Later in the film, we see the same thing with other concierges of other unnamed hotels. They all wear flamboyant costumes and have a dedicated lobby boy.  This represents a fraternity or kinship among hotel employees.  Throughout the film, employees are constantly staged in small and cramped environments. This displays that they are close through occupation. An example is the red elevator inside Gustave and Moustafa occupy in the beginning of the movie and the kitchen in another hotel.

The woman is the former owner of the hotel thus she wears red to blend in and signify that she is part of hotel.

This is another hotel concierge, wearing red instead of Gustave’s purple.

Close to the end of the movie, the kinship of hotel employees save Gustave from the evil clutches of Dmitri. Anderson makes a point to make his costume black and menacing to represent his sly and evil ways. . .

Dmitri’s pencil mustache and dark costume design illustrate his evil nature to the viewer. Also, notice that there are three women in this frame. This takes place when Dmitri is attempting to take all his mother’s possessions, he hires a murderer to do so.  These three women could be the Fates from Greek mythology. The Fates decide when people die.

Overall, Anderson’s use of mise-en-scène is fantastic and incredibly diverse. This blog post could go on forever if I included all the examples from the movie. While watching, I was most interested in the themes of kinship and nostalgia. I thought Moustafa finding a family through hotel servitude was incredibly touching, so I wanted to look for ways that Anderson displayed this through mise-en-scène.


Synchronicity and Symmetry In The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel is an audacious and whimsical film teeming with playful use of color, lighting and an obsessive attention to detail. I’m struck by the balance of color in every scene from the regal purple and gold of the hotel staff, to the dark ensemble of Dmitri and his siblings and the beautifully decorated cake boxes. It is clear that Wes Anderson is one who takes the complement and contrast of different colors very seriously. A few examples can be seen in these scenes:

His development of mise-en-scene using color is anything but subtle. As color is meant to specifically highlight the opulence or lack thereof in the characters and their surroundings.  Every color exists in perfect harmony with the other, sometimes in compliment and other times in stark contrast but always well balanced.

In addition to the harmony of color in this movie, Wes Anderson displays a penchant for balance in the staging of his scenes and the placement of characters within them. On several occasions the actions or appearances of characters will mirror each other creating perfect symmetry within a single frame. An example of this can be seen in the train car scene involving Gustave and Zero.

The placement of the guards on Gustave and Zero, the bloody noses, the room lamps, the window and wine glasses placed in the center of the frame serve to create an extremely well balanced shot. Very few scenes exist in this movie that doesn’t possess some sense of duality and balance. There is a calming quality to the harmony of these well constructed scenes that I believe lend this movie its characteristic charm and perhaps serves to distract the viewer from the more insidious aspects of this movie. Such as the imbalance of power and the cruelty of imposed fascism in this fictional land.

The camera work in this movie is also very deliberate. There are several long tracking shots that follow the characters as the move across the scene but what really caught my eye were the shots taken in very grand spaces were the camera was kept still and characters appeared almost comically small within these large spaces. For example, the arrival of the police in the Grand Budapest.

In this scene the police officers and hotel staff appear almost as dolls deliberately placed in the space and we’re given a true sense of Wes Anderson control over perception.

Finally, while not exactly related to color or staging. One thing that truly delighted me was the very short scene involving the rail cars in the mountains. There is a moment when the car stops in mid ascent and a creaking sound emanates due to their movement. The creaking sound actually becomes a part of the background movie score. If you listen closely enough you notice that It is in the same key as the music. I was already captivated by the meticulous mise-en-scence in this movie but this extremely small and albeit insignificant detail absolutely blew me away. (sadly I was unable to find a clip of this scene)




Obscenities as a Leap to Reality in the Grand Budapest Hotel

From the minute the movie begins, Anderson places into a sort of “dream world” that is the Grand Budapest Hotel. Vibrant colors and symmetry in nearly every shot create beautiful scenes, but not necessarily believable or relatable ones. Just imagine of something like Die Hard was shot this way: it would turn from a suspenseful action film to something instead mimicking an arcade game.

the-grand-budapest-hotel-1200-1200-675-675-crop-000000.jpg (1200×675)

As you can see, the Die Hard scene looks like it can mimic reality, while the Grand Budapest Hotel puts us in a very planned scene. The movie continues this way until a certain action is used by the characters: the use of obscenities.

The very first instance of this happening is when Zero and and the Author (Jude Law) are relaxing in the roman baths. Suddenly, mid conversation, the shot cuts to an image of a rather fat man being hosed down in the shower. While this was not the most obscene shot in the film, it was definitely a step away from the “dreamy” shots that led up to it. When I first saw this scene I thought it was nothing more than a gag, but as the movie continued and more obscene shots happened, I began to realize they served as much more than that. These wild cuts or exclamations take the viewer out of Anderson’s “dream world” for a split second to remind us that what we are watching is indeed reality, and not just a perfect recreation of a story.

The other big example of a visual obscenity  that I noticed also happens to be during one of the more intense scenes in the film: when Zero and Gustave first approach “Boy With Apple” in Madame D’s home.

This painting is incredibly beautiful in a classical sense, almost to the point where Gustave sheds a tear witnessing it as the sole occupant of the wall. This is why found Zero’s choice to replace it rather amusing:

This painting is about the furthest thing from “Boy with Apple” that Zero could have chosen. It’s incredible obscenity turns this very intense scene into a comedic one, and more importantly one that could actually have happened.

Along with these visual obscenities, there were quite a bit of spoken ones that continued to remove the view from Anderson’s “dream”. Interestingly, the times I noticed characters cursing were all during some of the more intense scenes. When Gustave says “F*ck it” after being attacked on the train, or when Dmitri calls Gustave a “F*cking F*ggot” during the reading of the will both add an intense level of severity to otherwise goofy scenes.

Mise-en-scène, Realism, and Absurdity in The Grand Budapest Hotel


Wes Anderson’s depiction of Lutz’s Grand Budapest Hotel


As a viewer, one might be overwhelmed while watching Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel for the first time. There is so much going on in the frame at any moment in the movie that it is hard to keep up and understand what is going on. In this film, Wes Anderson provides viewers with overwhelming detail and mise-en-scène that almost hides the realism of the film; however, he also gives hints and clues throughout the movie that some parts of the story do not add up exactly. In the beginning, our story is told like an old folk lore that has been passed down from generation to generation when our narrators change from: a girl reading a book to an older author of the book to a younger version of that author to the old Mr. Moustafa, and then finally to his younger self, Zero, and the concierge of the hotel, M. Gustave. This exhaustive list alone should be more than enough for viewers to realize that some of the details of the story may not be as true as the author explicitly says at the beginning of his tale. Nonetheless, Wes Anderson’s beautiful and convincing use of mise-en-scène deceives viewers into ignoring his little clues along the way. As we progress in the story, we, as viewers, are convinced that the story is set in a “real” place called Lutz, Zumbrowka, where the currency is the Klubeck, but these faux facts are brushed over with a familiar use of World War I in Zumbrowka’s history.

The Zubrowka’s currency the Klubeck.


As we progress to the midway point of the movie, M. Gustave is in jail but is attempting to escape with the help of Zero’s girlfriend, Agatha.  In a single scene, we see Agatha create tool shaped pastries with tools inside of them and send them to the jail. We then see the the pastries miraculously bypass the jail’s food inspection somehow. Comically, the jail’s inspector cuts through and checks the food before and after Agatha’s pastries, and in a fitting fashion, Deputy Kovacs’s in the next scene explains that “something’s missing”.  Deputy Kovac’s scene acts as external commentary to the prior scene but is hidden by the fact that he’s talking about another matter with the villain of the film, Dmitri. After M. Gustave escapes the jail, the following absurd scenes occur. The Society of the Crossed Keys guides M. Gustave and Zero to safety. Then, a gunfight including a bunch of random individuals and a George Clooney look-alike is started in the hotel by Dmitri . Finally, a familiar fight breaks out between Zero, M. Gustave, and the Militia who stopped their train. After the fight on the train, Mr. Moustafa ends the story abruptly with an uncomfortable amount of unanswered questions. As the film comes to an end, Mr. Moustafa ends his conversation with our author by telling him that he thought M. Gustave’s world had vanished long ago, and M. Gustave had gracefully kept the illusion of it present this entire time. As viewers, this dialogue is Wes Anderson’s way of generalizing the realism of his film. The way that he normalizes absurdity to viewers with overwhelming detail and mise-en-scène allows him to create a seemingly real world and story out of thin air. As a whole, Wes Anderson proves that he can normalize and make an absurd story seem real and authentic to viewers.

Some food for thought questions:

  • Were there any scenes where you thought that was absurd and the characters reactions agreed with your own?
  • What was your take on how Wes Anderson handled realism and absurdity in this film?
  • Are there any other directors who take the same approach to realism as Wes Anderson?
  • How does Wes Anderson’s camera work go hand and hand with the realism in his film?

Symmetry in The Grand Budapest Hotel

In Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, it is apparent the mise-en-scène was done in a meticulous and purposeful way. The color hues are probably the easiest to notice, as the colors were fantastical during the shots of 1932, vibrant reds, pinks, and purples showing everywhere, while the whole look of the hotel became a bit more drab and dreary when shown in 1968. These color changes easily and effectively showed the decline of The Grand Budapest over the years, due to the war and M. Gustave H.’s decline of his true self (i.e., him becoming the exact replica of the guests he used to be able to point out).

However, I think perhaps one of the more interesting pieces of the mise-en-scène is the continual use of symmetry throughout the entire movie. This is perhaps one of Wes Anderson’s most defining characteristics as a director, and it is beautifully done throughout The Grand Budapest Hotel.  The staircase in The Grand Budapest split perfectly once you reached the concierge desk, one going left, one going right.

The same pattern followed in Madame C.V. du T.’s home. Similarly, almost every lighting piece in the background had a counterpart making it symmetrical.

Symmetry can also be found when M. Gustave and Zero are in the 3rd class sleeping car as they flee from the prison break. Even J. G. Joplilng’s brass knuckles that cause so much damage throughout the latter half of the movie are shown in perfect symmetry at the beginning.

The use of symmetry is compelling and aesthetically pleasing to view. Symmetry is also one of the only things to stay consistent throughout the time jumps, aspect ratio changes, and color changes of the film. In the midst of all of these changes that help keep the story both more clear and visually exciting, the symmetrical nature of almost every scene, especially in close ups, really help draw in the viewer and engage her into the story.

Mise en Scène in the Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson is an iconic director whose aesthetic is extremely recognizable, sometimes to a point of contention by those who aren’t enthusiastic about the style (on an unrelated note, check out https://www.reddit.com/r/AccidentalWesAnderson/ if you haven’t already). Bright and pastel colors are used in symmetrical, intentionally framed shots to create a feel that is truly unique. Personally, he is one of my favorite directors, and his aesthetic and matter-of-fact method of storytelling is one that I very much enjoy. I’ve seen The Grand Budapest Hotel a number of times, but while watching for entertainment rather than analysis of Wes Anderson’s craft. So much so, in fact, that I never realized the changes in aspect ratio that are some of the more obvious manipulations of the scene that Anderson employs. As the film descends layer by layer, deeper into the rose-colored nostalgia of the characters involved, the visual style becomes more and more “Anderson-esque”. The colors are brighter, the action scenes more puppet-like, and things take a tone that seems to be more influenced by the ruminations and aesthetics of Gustave and The Author than the real world. Cold characters are framed by drab Victorian decor and garbed in black leather. The hotel itself, an oasis of sophistication in a world that falls woefully short, is (initially) impossibly neat. The beginning of the film, where we’re rooted in the almost-present as we’re addressed by The Author, contrasts sharply from our clear role as an audience of the screen or stage-play of the stories of his past. This “feel” that Anderson creates and meticulously maintains is achieved through the use of several physical miniatures that were created for the film. Anderson’s work is sometimes described as “doll house”, and this is a movie where the moniker is almost literally applicable:


Nostalgia and the Nature of Story Telling

Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel, much alike each of his other films, is a delightfully charming and lively movie.  So far of all the Wes Anderson films I have viewed, not a single one has allowed me to stop grinning like a child throughout their entire run time, and Grand Budapest may be my favorite of the lot.  Grand Budapest, on many levels, feels like a self examination of the nature of Anderson’s own work.  Each frame, meticulously crafted as it is, seems to paint a picture of the nature of constructing a fiction by hand, or by mouth and print, as it were in the narrative.  The construction of the plot, as a window back into the past through the framework of the aged Mr. Zero’s story drips with nostalgia.  Every word out of Zero’s mouth and every scene built around it seems untrustworthy, and straight out of fantasy.  From the ridiculous moments in the plot which seem to be ripped straight from an summer spy flick to the vibrant and overly memorable characters, everything is perfect.  One of my favorite examples of this is Zero’s love, Agatha.   The birthmark on her cheek is claimed to resemble Mexico, but in the images we are given of her, it is a perfect photocopy of the country.  Of course it is, because this is his memory of his one love, and he remembers her as she must have been to him, perfect.  As we discussed in class, memory is messy, thoughts of the past get mixed up in our mind until we can barely distinguish on moment from another.  But when telling a story, we get to put the pieces back together and doctor an image of how we want the past to have been.  And yet, every time Zero thinks back upon her, he cries.  Because the true pain in nostalgia is the knowledge that the things that happened in our past, no matter how actually messy or painful they were initially, will never happen again.

Towards the end of the film, the writer asks Zero if he kept the hotel to keep a piece of Gustave’s world with him.  Zero responds with, “To be frank, I think his world had vanished long before he ever entered it.”  Just as much as Zero is an image of the fiction of the worlds that Wes Anderson weaves together with his bare hands, Gustave is an image of the construction itself, of the control which Wes Anderson seeks over his constructs.  Anderson creates worlds which cannot possibly exist but in film, and uses his sets and characters to reveal the ridiculousness of his fiction.  Every miniature and set piece feels just as toy like as it is.  You can feel the fiction rich in every frame.  Take the sled scene for instance. 

The actors representations throughout this scene feel ridiculously tiny, and the obvious miniatures point out the ridiculous fiction of this shot.  As the narrative moves deeper into Zero’s story, more and more of these miniature set pieces pop up.

Though Wes Anderson’s fantastic version of the 1930’s and before is long past, the cinema allows us to join Anderson as he “sustains the illusion with a marvelous grace.”