On Friday night, Sean and I went to see Wes Anderson’s latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel, at the cinemaplex in Union Square. We actually tried to see it the Saturday before because New York and L.A. got an early release on the nationwide date, but lo and behold, it was totally sold out from here until tomorrow.
The plot is a little complicated to explain, as it’s a story within a story within a story, all nestled together like Russian dolls. Wes Anderson uses different screen dimensions to help make the different time periods a little more clear. At the heart of the movie is Zero Moustafa, owner of the now-faded Grand Budapest Hotel, reflecting on his youth as the hotel’s lobby boy under the tutelage of elegant concierge Gustave H., who is well-loved by his wealthy patrons, until one day he is accused of murdering a Madame D. and stealing a priceless Renaissance painting, and is then consequently imprisoned. All this set against the backdrop of a fictional European pre-WWII nation on the brink of change and turmoil.
We have been on a bit of a Wes Anderson kick for the past couple of years, going through all of his films. I don’t know why it took me so long to get into them — I’m a huge sucker for romantically old-fashioned (some might even say, “twee”) things: cardigans, ballet flats, used bookstores, pastel macrons, rusty typewriters, Moleskine calendar pocketbooks. So it makes perfect sense that I would adore the whimsical nostalgia of Wes Anderson’s dollhouse worlds, each frame a perfectly arranged visual feast of the antiquated (careful cursive handwriting, rotary phones, telegrams) seeped in Polaroid-esque tones of yesteryear. I love his quirky characters, and I love the enchanting soundtracks.
Did you know Wes Anderson was born in Houston and attended the University of Texas at Austin, where he met actor and longtime artistic partner, Owen Wilson? I think it’s so cool that these two Texas boys are still such BFFs and loyally make movies together.
I thought Grand Budapest Hotel, while clearly following Anderson’s iconic aesthetic (just look at his palette of blues, pinks, reds, and purples! swoon!), was also a bit different from his previous films — although in an enjoyable way. This story seemed a lot more fast-paced than some of his others, complete with a prison escape with the perfect Anderson touch — tiny little pickaxes and hammers smuggled to the prisoners via delicate pastel pastries — and a resulting chase scene reminiscent of vintage Looney Tunes cartoons.
But the overall theme was still distinctly one of nostalgia: of the last glory years of eastern Europe before the explosion of WWII and the Iron Curtain. It was charming, but also a little unsettling, even if the Nazis were goofily renamed the “ZZ.”
With the recent movie release, there have been several interesting articles popping up about what makes Anderson’s movies so visually appealing. I think it’s because they have a certain simplistic storybook feel: here are the little people in their little houses, watch them move across the page. The Vulture recently published a story on how Anderson characters always move in a straight horizontal line across the screen or in a straight vertical line either directly toward or directly away from the camera. Like such:
And then this brilliant montage popped up recently, revealing the perfect symmetry of Anderson’s shots:
I can’t tell you how happy this supersymmetry makes me. If you’ve never seen a Wes Anderson movie, you should give them a try.
My favorite is Moonrise Kingdom, which is the first movie we saw in theaters after moving here, and I remember the heavy air conditioning at the theater was such a welcome relief from sweltering in our apartment as we moved in furniture and unpacked our things.
It is my quintessential summer film; I love the story of these two adolescent outsiders becoming good friends and falling in innocent prepuscent love. Plus, it has everything you wanted in a summer as a kid, whether you’ve personally experienced these things or not: sleepaway camp, canoeing, a secret penpal, window seat reading, beach dancing, a kitten stolen away in a picnic basket. Ed Norton dressed as Khaki Scout troop leader, goofy khaki shorts, hat and all.