April 1, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel: Wes Anderson's Cabinet of Curiosities

Study in pastry pink: The Grand Budapest Hotel poster

I still remember the first time I encountered Wes Anderson's utterly distinctive cinematic voice: it was during my undergraduate days where the university student cinema showcased a preview of The Royal Tenenbaums before its official release in UK theatres. The student cinema held an all-nighter once every term, showcasing an assorted variety of films - and The Royal Tenenbaums happened to be one of those films which I definitely would not have thought of seeing at the time had it not been for the all-nighter. As the sepia-hued, darkly comic frames unspooled across the screen, I was instantly intrigued and transfixed by the quirky parallel worlds and characters that Anderson had created - and I still consider it to be amongst my favorite films.

A still from Darjeeling Limited (incidentally, I have been to this very temple!)
Having said that, I ironically didn't see much of Anderson afterwards though apart from The Darjeeling Limited. I didn't think it was particularly remarkable even though in signature Wes Anderson fashion, it was a veritable visual delight: beautifully photographed and presented what with the fabulously, minutely detailed train and photogenic detours within Rajasthan (and featuring my favorite Adrien Brody!) However, as soon as I saw the trailers of The Grand Budapest Hotel, which revolves around a concierge, Gustave on the run along with his most trusted employee, the hotel-lobby boy, Zero in a fictional European country in 1930s, I waited with bated breath to experience its ornately constructed fantastical universe, each frame warranting attentive watching.

One phrase that I have discovered and adored this year happens to be 'cabinet of curiosities' (also known as cabinets of wonder). The first time I stumbled upon it, I immediately conjured up a large, wooden, glass-fronted multi-sectioned cabinet filled to the brim with all sorts of curiosities: it was almost akin to peering into someone's imagination. And indeed, when I researched it further, the original meaning of the 'cabinet' in the phrase was in fact room, the multiple rooms and the encyclopedic range of objects they contained physically reflecting the length and breadth of the collector's interests and preoccupations; they were said to be precursors to modern-day museums,.

Purple meets Red: Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and Zero (Tony Revolori) converse

Pastel love: Zero and Agatha (Saoirse Ronan)
Having recently watched The Grand Budapest Hotel and attempting to distil the experience, it occurred to me that the best way to describe it would be through the prism of 'cabinet of curiosities', or as I interpreted it anyway - and the art direction would be the ideal place from which to start as the way the film looks is so crucial to the viewing experience. Each room/space in this film represents a specific, specialised imaginative space and considering that the film richly establishes multiple interior and exterior explorations of space, there are myriad universes to visit. We see flourishes of old-world hotel hospitality in a grand hotel, brutal rigors of a prison life, a pastry-maker's attention to her delicately constructed pastries, the baroque drama of a palace and family feuds encoded within them, and a murderer's menacing weapon-like rings. Each room and space therefore becomes a theatre in its own right, meticulously appointed with backdrops, objects and stories - and the performers thoroughly engage with the spaces, the spaces defining them and vice versa.

Adrien Brody behind a fortress of a desk
For example, in one scene as Gustav and Zero converse in deceased Madame M's palace, they do so in front of a window beyond which lies the pantry - and foregrounded by a cactus. What significance does the cactus hold? And yet, even when they depart from the frame, the camera lingers upon the cactus, almost as if the cactus is about to reveal something profound. Yet, that can ultimately be said of all the objects that populate this film, whether its the delicately constructed pastries, a painting in question (which implicates Gustav and Zero), a book of romantic poetry..

A fictionalised novel: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Whether its the process of creating or acquiring it, art plays a central role in the film and perhaps, it is no surprise that at times, the distinction between painting and cinema blurs in the film, creating a bizarre, surreal visual cinematic canvas. Anderson creates impressive gateways for the audience to access this universe and they happen to be composed of words: a confidential letter, a will, an unique coat/cat check, an inscription in a book, lines of poetry being quoted, and a lawyer's room wallpapered with precisely arranged books, to name just a few. Considering that the film is based upon the writings of Stefan Zwig and that it structures itself around a fictional novel, The Grand Budapest Hotel, words hold much currency indeed.

Critics have commented upon the box-like narrative form that Anderson uses for his films - and indeed, this film is a veritable Russian dolls of boxes: it is in fact a museum of Wes Anderson's imagination and the eclectic collection of curiosities populating it.

I can't wait to see what he comes up with next!

Image sources: various, Internet

1 comment:

  1. I admire your thoughts and your way of expressing and putting it in front of readers is really something that I have seen after a long time. We need more writers like you.


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