Wes Anderson movies are possibly the closest thing to an event movie for the … I was going to say something like “indie nerd cinephile set,” but the truth is Anderson’s films are beloved by all kinds of audiences—those who love tentpoles, cineastes, sci-fi aficionados, etc. His visual vocabulary is so idiosyncratic, so singular and distinct, it has practically become a brand or genre unto itself and it can be appreciated by anyone who simply loves movies. One of the most influential voices from the past two decades of American cinema, it’s funny to think that Anderson was endorsed by Martin Scorsese way back in the day when the “Mean Streets” director co-signed onto his then little-cared-for debut “Bottle Rocket” several years before Anderson would blow up into a cultural phenomenon (that wouldn’t be until around “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou”).
And as with any beloved figures, polarizing responses can creep up. In the middle part of Anderson’s career (circa ‘The Life Aquatic’ and after), some critics began to complain about the familiar stylized elements of his films being a crutch and formula, diorama-like to the point of aestheticizing the emotions of the story (to be fair, some prescribed elements—the slow motion endings, that Futura font, the expected Kinks or Rolling Stone song—were starting to feel a little mechanical at a certain point). The chief complaint was Anderson was repeating himself over and over again. At the end of the day though, while Anderson has made some little efforts to shrug off some the more comfortable elements of his films—going handheld, changing up aspect ratios, ditching his trademark fonts—he is himself, the filmmaker he wants to be and he has fully embraced that. A Wes Anderson film will always be a Wes Anderson film for better or worse (considering just how original and influential he’s been, we’d say for the better).
“[Repeating myself] is not something I think about. I really think about just the world of this movie, and what this one is going to be,” Anderson told us in an interview at Cannes last year. “My natural handwriting is neat and it is like my personality. Somewhere along the way I made this choice: I can force myself to not be what I feel I naturally am or I can just go with it and develop it.” Clearly Anderson has chose the latter.
His latest, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” just released its trailer yesterday. And most of us around The Playlist wholeheartedly love it (or at least this writer at any rate). It seems that Anderson is fully embracing comedy with this picture; this writer sees it as Ernst Lubitsch screwball comedies as lead by a 1950s Peter Sellers type. Playlist writer Jessica Kiang all made us laugh with this awesome observation: “The lovechild of Barton Fink and Agatha Christie as raised by Groucho Marx. Rendered in cake icing.” The arrival of a new Wes Anderson film is an event—one that often cuts through the noise of anonymous studio films geared for commerce—so we thought, much like we did last year for “Moonrise Kingdom” (a piece you guys seemed to enjoy), that we’d do a similar trailer deconstruction piece and look at some of the themes, motifs and similarities in “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and Anderson’s previous movies. Beware some super nerdy speculative stuff in here that some could view as spoiler-y.
The Aspect Ratios & The Movie’s Time Periods
I’m the last person to fetishize aspect ratios, but Wes Anderson films are known for their distinctive widescreen look which is due to the way Anderson shoots his films, assisted by longtime DP Robert Yeomen who has worked on all of his films aside from “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Anderson usually shoots in an anamorphic 35mm that is 2.39:1 (or close to that figure, sometimes 2.35.1). The filmmaker changed things up a bit and shot in Super 16mm and the 1.85 aspect ratio for his first period piece “Moonrise Kingdom” (set in the 1960s) and for his second period piece “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Anderson is doing the same, switching things up.
The director has alluded to the fact that ‘Budapest Hotel’ is set in different time periods and the varying aspect ratios in the trailer, and this Anderson interview with Matt Zoller Seitz (author of the recent and comprehensive book “The Wes Anderson Collection”) bear that out. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” was shot in 1.33, 1.85, and 2.35. “The movie jumps through three time periods; the different aspect ratios tell viewers where they are in the timeline,” Anderson told Seitz (thanks to Larry Wright for pointing this all out). So what are those time periods? Well, the movie appears to mostly take place in the early-to-mid 1930s—the synopsis says the movie takes place in Europe “between the wars,” (meaning between WWI and WWII), “all against the back-drop of a suddenly and dramatically changing continent” (this earlier synopsis is even more revealing of this point).
Plus the time periods, at least two of them have been confirmed by Jude Law (who notes he has a “tiny, tiny” role). “It’s mostly set in the ’30s, and my segment’s set in the ’60s,” he told The Playlist in an interview earlier this year. Our educated guess (based on the evidence in the trailer), is that the aspect ratios work in a kind of reverse chronological order—the more black in the frame the older the time period, the less black, the more recent (which is basically similar to how aspect ratios progressed in film history anyhow).
Time Period #1: The 1930s (1.33.1)
Most of the trailer is set in what appear to be the movie’s aforementioned main time period. And so fittingly, Anderson shoots in the old school “square”-like aspect ratio used in that era (1.33:1 or also known as 4×3 or the Academy ratio). There are two other different time periods in the film and as you can tell by these screen caps, they look different and are in 1.85.1, and 2.35.1 (notice that they look similar, but 1.85.1 has less top and bottom “black bars” on it).
Time Period #2: The 1960s (2.35:1)
The trailer is narrated by Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) and he is clearly the older version of the lobby boy in the movie named Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori). In his voiceover he speaks of his time at “The Grand Budapest Hotel” in his past as a young man. So clearly there’s one period in his youth (the 1930s), and then one when he is older. Going by Abraham’s age (he was born in 1939 and is currently 73 years old) this would probably land Mr. Moustafa more in modern times, but check the aspect ratios (not to mention the 1960s-esque turtleneck that the character sports). It is the same as Jude Law’s aspect ratio which is 2.35:1, meaning this likely the 1960s as well. And while that doesn’t really match with Murray’s age, a) it’s a movie, b) Wes Anderson’s time periods have always been fluid (see the fairy tale New York in “The Royal Tenenbaums” which is set in “modern times,” but feels more like the 1970s).
Time Period #3: Perhaps 20-25 Years After The 1960s? (1.85.1)
The last time period? It’s unclear, but there key clues given away on the poster which tells us whom every actor plays. The characters played by Jude Law and Tom Wilkinson could be the same person when you A/B the poster and trailer. Jude Law is listed as the “young writer” and Wilkinson as “the author” and their two aspect ratios—1.85 and 2.35—are similar enough to suggest a time and age gap not much different from the two actors. Perhaps Wilkinson is an author working on a book about the “Child with Apple” painting (seemingly the MacGuffin of the movie that ties all the characters together) and perhaps during the 1960s he was interviewing the now older Zero Moustafa as he’s really the only living person to have been around during its theft. Just a wild guess, obviously, but it’s one theory to consider. Time is relative in Anderson’s films so this speculative “20-something year gap” (the age gap between Law and Wilkinson in real life) could place this final period closer to “modern day” (again, that’s whatever Wes wants it to mean).
Here’s some other aspects of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and Anderson’s previous films to consider.
It looks like he’s finally moved on from the Future Bold font. “Moonrise Kingdom” employed a custom cursive font by designer Jessica Hische and the font for ‘Budapest Hotel’ is Archer (Bold/Semibold) which looks like the font Rockwell‘s slightly upscale older brother. (Thanks to Slate for the tip.)
While past collaborators include Owen Wilson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Noah Baumbach, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is the first feature-length screenplay to be produced that Anderson has sole writing credit on. It should be noted that he also had sole credit on his lovely ‘Darjeeling’ short “Hotel Chevalier,” and also went solo on the unproduced “The Rosenthaler Suite” he wrote for Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment. However, the story-by credit does have a co-author and that’s Hugo Guinness. He’s an artist whose illustrations can be glimpsed at Eli Cash’s apartment in “The Royal Tenenbaums” (just to the right of the giant paintings by Miguel Calderon), and he also voiced a farmer character in “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”
Recurring Wes Anderson Motif’s
Young star-crossed lovers: Amidst the mile-a-minute screwball antics in the trailer, you get your first peek at what may be the true center of the film: a budding relationship between Tony Revolori and Saoirse Ronan’s characters. (Take note of the penultimate shot just before the title card as the two come together in embrace.) It’s a theme seen most recently in “Moonrise Kingdom” but goes as far back as Ritchie and Margot in “The Royal Tenenbaums.”
Hotels: “The Royal Tenenbaums” has the Lindbergh Palace Hotel which unceremoniously kicks out Royal (who later goes to work there as an elevator operator), “The Hotel Chevalier” is obviously named after its locale, as is “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”
Hotels means hotel elevators and old school/pre war ones at that, which come with operators to run them. “The Royal Tenenbaums” has Dusty and Royal and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” has Gustave, Zero and one other unidentified character working the buttons and levers.
Trains: The scuffle towards the end of the trailer looks to take place in a train car, not unlike where Wes set his 2007 film “The Darjeeling Limited,” which was named after the train where the bulk of the story is set.
Cad surrogate fathers: Father/son relationships are well documented in Wes Anderson films—“Rushmore” has Herman Blume and Bert Fischer, “The Royal Tenenbaums” has Royal, “The Life Aquatic” has Steve Zissou, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” has a father/son dynamic and even the ghost of a deceased father haunts the brothers in “The Darjeeling Limited.” But a specific type of surrogate father, the cad, has appeared in several as well. Max Fischer’s stand-in father figure Herman Blume cheats on his wife with abandon as does Royal Tenenbaum. The surrogate father motif is alive and well in “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” as M. Gustave seems to be jackass louche who has his way with women including the very old and recently deceased Madame D.
The recurring cast members: Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, and Bob Balaban (who is unseen in the trailer) are all back for ‘Budapest.’ The biggest news to celebrate may be that after several years of absence, Owen Wilson also returns to the fold for the first time since 2007 (though he had a small voice role in “Fantastic Mr. Fox”). Anderson seems to keep expanding members of his troupe and this time it appears to be Jude Law, Tom Wilkinson, Mathieu Amalric, Saoirse Ronan, and newcomer Tony Revolori as well as a not-seen-in-the-trailer “Blue Is The Warmest Color” star Léa Seydoux. Once you appear in a Wes Anderson movie, like recent additions Harvey Keitel and Adrien Brody, you tend to pop up again and again.
Sucker punch gag: One of the biggest laugh out loud moments in the trailer is the roundtable sucker punch, which is a gag that Anderson appears to be fond of. In ‘The Life Aquatic’ Steve Zissou memorably punched out his son Ned with the line, “You just smile and act natural … and then you sucker punch him.”
The awkward quick bolt get-away: Another quick gag is Gustave making a mad dash away from the authorities which is similar to one character who does the same thing in the ‘The Life Aquatic’ and Herman Blume does it in “Rushmore” as well.
Wrought Iron Fences: If the image of a sturdy iron fence encasing a building looks oddly familiar, it’s because we’re not the only ones who have worn out our Criterion “Rushmore” disc.
Heist film: Watching the trailer closely and you can begin to see the elements come together (a painting, a jailbreak, a mad chase) that it appears Anderson (however loosely) is returning to the genre he made his debut with 18 years prior: the heist film. However increasingly stylized his work has become over the years, that should give even old school “Bottle Rocket” fans something to be excited for.
From what we’ve been hearing the film will be a strictly scored affair by Alexandre Desplat (that means no pop music interludes from The Kinks, etc.) and has been highly influenced by Russian folk music as can be heard in the trailer. This isn’t a total surprise as “Moonrise Kingdom” had a bare minimum of pop songs (some Hank Williams can be heard briefly on the car radio) and as this is a ’30s set period piece, it makes sense to move further away from anachronistic pop.
Characters (in order of appearance of title card in the trailer)
Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave
The rapscallion hotel concierge of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” who winds up in all kinds of trouble in the film for various trespasses and offenses.
F. Murray Abraham as Mr. Moustafa
The older version of Zero Moustafa who narrates the trailer and shows up in flashbacks (or should we call them flash forwards?).
Mathieu Amalric as Serge
It’s unclear what Serge’s role is exactly, but we do see him pulling Dmitri away from Gustave, so they appear to be a colleagues of some sort.
Adrien Brody as Dmitri
Clearly the son, or a kin of Tilda Swinton’s Madame D., he’s mad as hell that he didn’t get “Boy With Apple” as an inheritance.
Willem Dafoe as Jopling
He appears to be Dmitri’s muscle with a penchant for wearing lots of rings.
Jeff Goldblum as Kovacs
While it seems he might be an art auctioneer, perhaps he’s a lawyer as he’s reading off the item’s in Madame H.’s last will and testament.
Harvey Keitel as Ludwig
A prison inmate who presumably befriends M. Gustave after he himself is incarcerated (there are shots of the two of them trying to make a prison break). A rather hilarious touch: his prison tattoos seem to have been designed by Eric Anderson (Wes’ older brother and go-to illustrator) and thus have an amusingly inappropriate child-like quality to them.
Jude Law as Young Writer
Not a lot to go on here, but he has the same glasses and moustache as Tom Wilkinson’s author and distinctly looks like a younger version of that character. Jude Law has said in interviews he does only appear in flashbacks.
Bill Murray as M. Ivan
He is the concierge of the five-star Hotel Excelsior Palace. A rival hotel perhaps? Maybe not, he does assist Zero and Gustave during their flight from the authorities according to the trailer.
Edward Norton as Henckels
He is the main police authority figure in the film. While the movie is set in Hungary, the various look and feel around his character, including the Gabelmeister’s Peak pub in the background of his title card is very Germanic.
Saoirse Ronan as Agatha
She is Zero’s love interest, is a baker, acts as a “fence” and has a birthmark which looks distinctly like Mexico on her face.
Jason Schwartzman as M. Jean
He’s a modern, or more modern-day hotel concierge as we can tell by his aspect ratio. Note that familiar looking painting above his head. It appears he works in the Grand Budapest Hotel of the future.
Tilda Swinton as Madame D.
Clearly smitten with the lothario, elderly-loving Monsieur Gustave, she’s the aristocratic biddy that owns “Boy With Apple.” Also, she is dead.
Owen Wilson as M. Chuck
He appears to be the replacement concierge for The Grand Budapest Hotel after Gustave gets in all sorts of trouble.
Tom Wilkinson as Author
There’s not much to go on here other than our earlier posit, but he is the only aspect ratio shot in 1.85.1.
Tony Revolori as Zero
The junior lobby boy in-training under the strict command of M. Gustave.
Léa Seydoux as Clotilde
It’s probably worth pointing out that the only actor to appear on the poster but not in the trailer is Léa Seydoux, who is playing a character called Clotilde. Our original thought was she might be playing an older version of Saoirse Ronan’s character but considering the poster has them listed under two different names, that’s obviously not it. “I do work in a bakery and I have a relationship with the lead character,” she said in an interview earlier this year. So she works alongside Ronan’s character then and maybe fucks the ever-horny Gustave?
Extra credit: Check out Larry Pine, the actor who played convincing Charlie Rose-like TV figure Peter Bradley from “The Royal Tenenbaums” (also the star of many commercials that Anderson has directed), standing next to Owen Wilson’s character. If you watch the trailer closely, you can tell Pine’s character is the hotel manager. He also replaces Gustave With Owen Wilson’s M. Chuck.
Also, the painting that gives everyone pause midway through the trailer? It’s by Egon Schiele. Anderson obviously has a penchant for amusing paintings in his films, be it the amusing and regal portraits of family members (the Blume family in “Rushmore,” Royal’s grandmother the “saint” in ‘Tenenbaums,’ “Boy With Apple” in ‘Budapest’), or the random freaky paintings of Miguel Calderon featured in Eli Cash’s apartment.
– Rodrigo Perez with helpful assistance from Cory Everett. Special thanks to Larry Wright for his helpful aspect ratio confirmation in this piece. Follow him here on Twitter or visit his cool “film, photography, technology and fun” site Refocused Media.