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.

 

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?

Use Setting and mine-en-scéne to Convey Human Traits

Wes Anderson is one of my favorite writer/directors in American film.  Not just for “The Grand Budapest Hotel” but for many of his works such as Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom.  In each of his movies he pays close attention to the setting he uses to set the general mood of a particular scene.   As a result, Wes Anderson’s movies tend to take on a “play” or “theatre” style.

For example, when we see The Grand Budapest Hotel in its 1932 setting, we see a bright, colorful and fantasy palace-like building and background.

This setup is akin to a “doll-house” where the vibrant colors signify a high society or royalty might visit for comfort and recreation.  This setting might represent a persons’ “dreamland” where they can escape to and marvel at the landscape of the countryside from a Grand Place.

Another example would be the gathering of Madam D.’s family.  The room where they are deciding who gets her fortune is filled with animal fur carpets, stuffed bears,  and head mounts.  The setting in this scene also symbolizes a wealthy society, but also fits a symbol of human greed and avarice.   Such is shown as the all of the members of the extended family show up to the reading of the will in an attempt to gain as much wealth as they can.

Lastly, one of my favorite scenes in the movie was the mountain chapel where they go to meet the butler.  At first, it was strange why Wes Anderson decided to place a chapel so high on a mountain only accessible by a cable car.  I feel that he does this, not only to signify the high place of the Church in the society of Europe, but to signify the perceives effort it takes to be recognized as a devoted member of a religion, and how easy it is to “fall from grace.”  The latter meaning is reinforced shortly after the Serge X is killed, when Mr. Gustave and Zero enter a rapid, downhill chase after his murderer.

Many of Wes Anderson’s scenes capture a mood, a feeling, or trait that fits the characters and the setting of the stories he tells.  What other scenes may there be examples of this.  Not just in The Grand Budapest Hotel but maybe other Wes Anderson movies.

The Use of Costumes to Convey Character Personalities and Roles

The Grand Budapest Hotel employs a wide variety of costumes and costume colors to portray characters in their intended roles. The first example of this is given in the clothing choice of the author both young and old. He is wearing the same grayish brown suit in the 1960s as a young man and in the older form from present day.

      

The color choice provides a clue that he isn’t part of the story but more of a background through the voice of one of the narrators. This is highlighted by how he appears to almost blend into the background colors in the scenes he is in.

The villains of the story are always portrayed in the full black clothing in order to give off a sinister appearance. Even after the reading of the will and period of mourning has ended, the son of the Madame D and his henchmen maintain their full black attire.

The military and police forces are outfitted in gray military uniforms. This costume choice conveys how they have the potential to be on the side of Zero and Gustave by protecting and clearing them of charges, but at the same time also pursuing them for escaping from prison and for murder which they are obligated to do whether they believe Gustave committed the crime or not.

However, the most important costume choices were made in regards to Gustave and Zero. While the movie shifts them through a variety of different costumes and costume colors, the most important part of their costume’s is that they are  always  wearing similar clothing.

     

The choice of similar costumes for every scene provides a connection between Gustave and Zero, not only in their mutual adventure of escaping the police and trying to solve the murder of Madame D, but it also provides clues to the answer of Zero’s question from the beginning of the movie. Without directly saying anything, the costumes help depict how similar Gustave and Zero are. Neither character has any real family to speak of, they both began as lobby boy’s ,as Gustave finally admits at the end of the movie, and they both devoted their entire lives to the hotel and its upkeep even when it became rundown or out of their control.

The choice of costumes in a movie not only provides an insight into the period of time that the movie takes place, the location, or even the wealth of the character but it also can provide insight into the intentions and characteristics of the character. Some movies may not be as blatantly obvious as The Grand Budapest Hotel in regards to the villains being portrayed in full black, but what other movies use costume color as well as appearance to portray the character’s intentions? Are there any movies which choose a costume to decieve the audience into thinking a character is good or bad only for the character to be the opposite of what was conveyed? Was every costume decision in The Grand Budapest Hotel thought of in depth or in some cases was a gray military uniform really just the color of the uniforms in the portrayed time period?

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.

What’s Left Off Screen in “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

In Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, Zero narrates his story of inheritance to The Author. This narration comes with all of Zero’s biases, faded memories, and potentially false memories. In all that is told however, death is consistently avoided and left off the screen for the viewer.  From Madame D., to Kovacs, to even Kovacs’ cat, only the result of death is shown. The jailbreak scene in particular has  violence, but Gustave only tells zero that his friend did not make it. If we put ourselves in Zero’s shoes we know that we did not witness these events. Zero would have heard about them through someone else, probably Gustave. Was Gustave protecting the innocent Zero from the gruesome reality around them? Or was Zero purposefully avoiding some of the harsher memories of his past, thinking of the events with a more positive lens and therefore protecting the audience?

Out of all of the deaths in the film, the three closest to Zero are given only a few short sentences. When Zero recalls the deaths of Gustave, Agatha, and his child, he spends almost no time at all on them. Is he trying to avoid the pain associated with those events, or does he want to keep some of his memories private? I also found some interesting views about the movie here , and one of the events that is explained as foreshadowing is the scene where Gustave gives Agatha flowers in “a box the size of a child’s coffin”. The space of the scene is interesting as well. Gustave, Agatha, and the child are all represented close to the camera with Zero far in the back. What is Anderson’s goal with this shot? What is the symbolism?

Meaning Behind the Artificiality of “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Wes Anderson employs a unique style that permeates all of his films in which the portrayal of scenes alternates between realism and surrealism. Not only is this a quirky method that differentiates him from other directors, but it is a means of advancing the narrative of movies to be about more than just what is being shown to us. In this case, The Grand Budapest Hotel becomes more than a comical story about Zero Moustafa and M. Gustave getting into and out of trouble.

The Grand Budapest Hotel can be dissected into four layers. On the first layer, there is a girl reading a book about the hotel and visiting the grave of the author. Then we are introduced to the author in his old age recollecting his experience as a writer, specifically when he met Moustafa. Then we reach the next layer in which Moustafa is telling the young author the story about him and his connection to the hotel in the past. The story of his connections with the hotel makes up the final layer. Thus, this film is not defined by the story within it, rather it is about the telling of a story long ago, riddled with nostalgia and biases.

As a story of the past, bias, nostalgia, and misinformation seep into what we see on screen as an artificial aesthetic. It honestly portrays the way that the passing on of information affects the reality of the past. The hotel (shown below) we see in this film is not the hotel of reality, but it’s the hotel of the story. The characters are not the people from the real events, but they are caricatures of those people.

An instance of this artificiality shows in the scene where Gustave and Zero are chasing Jopling down a mountain on a sled.

In this short video, Wes Anderson talks about how he made this scene. The artificial look was on purpose. This is a story being told in layers and we are seeing the memory of events and the recollection of interactions accompanied by all their bias and misinformation. This is visually portrayed through artificial looking sets, unrealistic colors, dramatic depictions of reality, and the use of puppets and miniature sets. It represents the cracks in reality caused by memory and nostalgia and in turn the effects it has on storytelling and perception of those stories.

Color and Intertitles: Creating Themes in ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’

In The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson’s signature film style is well highlighted, especially through his use of color in crafting the mise-en-scéne. The visual representations of the characters and the environment added personality to the personas and encouraged character development. Each era and scene had a particular color scheme to help establish the mood for the audience, through the set and costumes. The non-linear nature of the film meant that it could be difficult to follow, and specific color keys were used to aid in distinguishing where the story was at currently. The 1960s had a distinct brown and mustard tone that associated itself with the mellow and dissolving theme of the Grand Budapest being past its heyday. This is in contrast to the pastels and rose colors that are signature of the 1930s hotel. The muted (almost Easter like) hues of the hotel itself, let the brighter more pure colors be reserved for the characters themselves and key objects, like the elevator, highlighting their importance.

The use of color can also be parrelled with the lack of color in other parts of the movie. As the movie progresses and takes a somewhat darker turn so do the colors. Gustave is sent to jail where everything has subdued tones of grey, blue, and brown. The contrast between the world of prison and the hotel is best illustrated when Zero visits in his purple uniform, and even more so with the rose Mendel’s container. The pink hues of confectionery box not only show the pureness of Agatha (which we later learn in the film), but also the hope of the outside world and the tools of escape that the box brings. The journey that takes places after the prison escape continues with the restrained color palette as they venture through many white and bland environments and are followed by men in grey drab uniforms and the black leather(?) outfit of Jopling. These monotone themes establish the more serious tone of this part of the film, however, the most extreme being at the end of Zero’s story. The saddest time of Zero’s life could be pin pointed even without dialogue became all color becomes devoid and the solemn death of Gustave is shown through the black and white in the scene.

On a side note, another interesting visual aspect of the film that intrigued me was the use of the titles to transition between parts of the story. These intertitle acted as visual cues to progress the story, which is helpful since this film can be hard to follow. However, they have another more interesting use because it reminisces to older forms of film, just as the movie is set in the past. The tradition of an intertitle connects the 1930s sequences to trends that were used in actual 1930s films, which further builds the mise-en-scéne of The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Further questions on the topic:
– How can the specific colors of the character’s attire be attributed to their role in the film or their personalities?
– I mostly talked about color in The Grand Budapest Hotel and its role in constructing the characters and the mood, however, how could color be related with Wes Anderson’s use of symmetry in the film?
– How does costume (and its relation to color) further themes of the film?
– Why might purple be chosen for their hotel uniforms? (Since purple is usually associated with royalty and they are working class men).
Why do you think the elevator is red? (There is very little pure color used in the film, so why here?)

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.

Related image

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.

Related image  Image result for grand budapest prison escape

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?