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Discover the Wes Anderson Experience

Discover the Wes Anderson Experience

Upon this earth there are a few fortunate souls lucky enough
to receive a role in a Wes Anderson film. During a series of interviews after its recent Berlinale screening, the “Grand Budapest
Hotel” cast members together suggested an on-set atmosphere not so different
than the charming nature of the film itself. “It’s the Wes Anderson
experience,” intoned Jeff Goldblum, “which is a lovely, delightful, uncommonly
beautiful communal art project.” (Fox Searchlight opens the movie stateside March 7.)

The set was like the actors retirement home, said Bill Murray, quoting Willem Dafoe. “We were all in this really old hotel in Görlitz [on the Germany-Poland border]. “And you’d walk across the lobby and say, ‘Good morning,’ all the time
in your slippers and your robe, like a bunch of old men dying. We walked over
to Poland one night,” he added with deadpan precision, “and it was closed.”

Murray
has of course been working with Anderson for a long time, since “Rushmore.”
With that film, he recalled, “there was a lot of pressure to meet Wes. They
sent me the script and said do you want to meet this guy? I said, ‘I don’t need
to meet this guy because whoever wrote this script knows exactly what he wants
to do.’ It was so precise, what he wanted, that I didn’t have any doubt that he
would be able to do it.”

“Grand
Budapest” is Murray’s seventh film with Anderson
, and the actor sees a change:
“I think the thing that’s different is the scripts are better. You feel like
the script is coming to you, you don’t have to drive the boat. All the props he
has, the sets, they’re all so perfect. You just have to relax, it’s almost like
being part of a chemical process… You’re like the flower in the picture, the
still life.”

Several
cast members spoke of Anderson’s incredible attention to design and detail,
including the young Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, who noted that she’s a big fan
of “Bottle Rocket”: “I love how disorganized in a way that film is compared to
others of his films, and I asked Wes about it and he said it was like that to
shoot as well, and so from then on he decided to be very strict in the way that
he shot them.”

Yet
according to Dafoe, that strict way of shooting has also been a learning
process: “In ‘Life Aquatic,’ some of those scenes weren’t so figured out; some
of the long takes he choreographed in the moment. With ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox,’ he
loved that kind of preparation, because with animation of course you have to
really have it worked out.”

And
that led to Anderson creating a “Grand Budapest” animatic
,
which he then sent to all of his actors. “It was clear and beautiful and
witty,” said Dafoe, “with him doing all the voices. I think he liked designing
the shots more completely. It made it really efficient, and also less chance to
get hung up in the shooting. Some actors didn’t want to see the animatic, but I
loved it, because it was so clear.”

Ralph
Fiennes, not so much: “It was sort of satisfying to see ‘this is the movie’ but
I didn’t want to study it because I wanted to find [my character] on the day. I
think one’s own imagination, the world you’re inhabiting as an actor, is what
you need.”

“When
people first work with Wes,” said Murray, “he really wants it a certain way.
He’ll say, ‘Now say it like this.’ Most actors don’t like that but I sort of
know the pitch of it now. You don’t have to say the lines exactly like he does
but you got to have a sort of clarity in your head, so you’re not dragging it
down. It’s got to really bounce, pop along because the script is really
bouncing along.”

Anderson likes to request several takes with
different levels of broadness.
When asked about his character Monsieur Gustave,
the solicitous hotel concierge who can nevertheless suddenly turn volatile,
Fiennes noted that he had based it on an older actor he knew, a gentleman who
would on occasion let go with a less than gentlemanly riposte. “But my
publicist says that’s me,” he added. “We did lots and lots of takes, probably
that frustration came out — ‘For fuck’s sake, Wes, what’s going on?!’” Fiennes
laughed.

For his part, Anderson made clear in subtle, humble ways, the degree of his preparation is everything, from his initial interest in the work of Austrian writer Stefan Zweig  – “I really thought I’d like to do something Zweigesque” – to the
observation of a friend upon which M. Gustave is based, to his study of
photographs of the Austro-Hungarian empire in the Library of Congress – “It’s
like Google Earth of turn of the century” — to the animatic and well beyond.
Basically, every last thing, according to Murray: “Even the crazy Russian
dancing guy at the end of the movie — Wes still had more in him. And the
balalaika orchestra, not two guys and double it forty times, but forty actual
guys, so you could actually hear how crazy they sound.”

What
you get, then, is a fully realized farcical fantasy world drawn from some of
the more tragic realities of the 20th Century. “We’re mixing wars together,
we’re mixing up nationalities and cultures and everything,” said Anderson. “And
this stateless kid [the character of Zero Moustapha, played by Tony Revolori],
I don’t know if he was an Arab or a Jew, maybe a mix of the two, and I don’t
know what happens to him. So I just felt like we’ll see what that adds up to.”

What
that adds up to is both comedy and lament, a madcap Lubitschian jaunt into the
fascistic madness that ruined everything. (It was the Jewish Zweig’s nostalgic
memoir “The World of Yesterday” that Anderson was reading when he hit on the
idea for the film.) As always with Anderson, who seems such a gentle, amused,
thoughtful soul – he might be the love child of Mr. Rogers and Lucille Ball –
the lament comes etched in indelible comedic ink.

“I’ve never had a movie where there’s this much blood,” he told me when asked how he managed to balance his film’s light and dark aspects.
Later returning to the subject, he added, “That there is a lot of blood may be
the answer in a weird way.”

Chopped-off
body parts, in other words, despite seen only briefly and played for laughs,
carry more than their share of the weight. Anderson certainly does not hit you
over the head with heaviness, or what stands for it. If anything, he goes
perhaps too far in the other direction — it’s possible to tire of the
incessant pacing, absurd situations and gags, star cameos, endless plottings,
all propelled by an Alexandre Desplat score that sometimes evokes a band of
Klezmer-happy mosquitoes. But then, who could complain about a film that has
Fiennes’ M. Gustave saying of Tilda Swinton’s Madame D, “She was great in the
sack, by the way.”

                Zero:
“But she was 84!”

                Gustave:
“I’ve had older.”

“Wes comes at things in a sort of
delicate, almost circular way,”
says Fiennes of the purpose behind the madness. “At the end of this film with its pastiche of
fascist SS soldiers, the punch is stronger because you weren’t expecting it.
Ridicule is also a weapon against forces of evil. Something very serious
happens at the end, it goes to black and white, something changes and shifts.
The film has an almost troubling quality here.”

Wes’s movies “kind of hover and then they land,” said Dafoe. “The surprising thing is how
moving the last part is. I get moved when I hear him say, ‘Oh that world he was
living is kind of gone, but he’s sure putting up a good show.’ And that’s about
the movies, and people carrying on — a kind of romantic attachment to a
certain way of thinking. It’s fun getting there, and that’s kind of what makes
it land and makes it stick – not just good jokes, and beautiful gags and funny
beards. It really lands and becomes about something.”

Goldblum,
who was paired with Dafoe in the interviews, added: “When [Saoirse Ronan’s
Agatha] starts reciting her poetry about her relationship [with Zero], it’s a
very beautiful thing. That glimmer of civility in a world of brutality — well,
that’s Wes, too. That’s what he’s making and devoting his life to and offering.
Here’s something lovely, here’s something that I can do that’s beautiful in a
world of coarseness. And that’s a very beautiful thing.”

Indeed, even at Anderson’s worst – many consider that to be
“Life Aquatic,” a film I saw three times in the theater and consider pure
genius — he is an international treasure. Still, I suspect not many would mind
if on his next project he played things a bit looser. Perfection and control
aren’t everything, after all. Zweig was never able to revise “The World of
Yesterday,” for one example. On the day after he put the manuscript in the
mail, from Brazil where he was living in exile from his lost, beloved Vienna
and all it stood for, he and his wife committed suicide.

 

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