“The Grand Budapest Hotel”- Remembering Central Europe

July 18, 2014

“There are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity.”

I had never seen a movie three times in theaters before, “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” And after multiple viewings the film had not lost a bit of its luster. I was still bedazzled by Robert Yeoman’s cinematographic magic-carpet ride and the extravagant storytelling of Wes Anderson. I still cried at the end, and however odd this may seem, it is a typical response I have to Wes Anderson films. It feels like the movie was released for me at this exact point in my life. At the end of it, I realized the melancholic growing pains that often follow the end of an era. I remembered my life in Prague last year, thought of my grandmother’s youth in the mountains of Slovakia and was reminded of the fragility and kismet nature of love. But before I get to the bittersweet ending, let me address details hanging framed in the background and woven into the dialogue that instigate my sincere adoration for this succulent film. Still courtesy of Digitalspy.“The Grand Budapest” is set in the fictional country, Zubrowka, but it draws from cities like Vienna, Prague and Budapest. I recall the pastel colored buildings I passed on my way to class in the historical districts of Prague— their Bohemian architecture and springtime hues a stark contrast to the dunes of snow. The hotel and pastry shop, Mendl’s, in the film share the same shade of pink that fill the town squares of central Europe. The hotel also has a similar façade to the Hotel Corinthia in Budapest, and it is detailed with elegant elements of Art Noveau. Similar to the Viennese architectural creations of Otto Wagner and Joseph Maria Olbrich, whose techniques were innovated during the turn of the century, the Grand Budapest adorns swooping rhythmic accents on its exterior. Austrian painters of the Sezession movement also make appearances in the film. When the celebrated hotel concierge Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), stands in one of the hotel suites, a Gustav Klimt birch forest painting casually hangs behind him. An Egon Schiele nude portrait substitutes the spot on the mantel where the film’s venerated Johannes Van Hoytl the Younger’s renaissance painting, “Boy with Apple” once hung (“Boy with Apple” is a present day oil painting from British painter Michael Taylor). Anderson has seasoned the film with these artistic treasures, but the true essence of “The Grand Budapest” is found in the royal purple tails worn by Gustave, the vibrant red hotel elevator and the foreboding mahogany walls inside Madame D.’s palace, Schloss Lutz. The essence is apparent in the dashing gestures of Monsieur Gustave. It is in his speech, reader darling, and in the symmetrical cinematography that mimics his attention to detail and refined grace. Gustave H. image courtesy of Tim Haslett's blog. The story is arrived at through a series of flashbacks. It begins in present times when a young reader goes to the monument of the renowned author of The Grand Budapest Hotel. The first flashback peels back a layer of time to 1985, when the author is being interviewed for his book, “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” The décor of his office with its burnt orange curtains and wallpaper took me back to Prague again, reminding me of my Soviet-era decaying dorm room. The next flashback is to 1968, when the author was a young writer (Jude Law) and guest at The Grand Budapest. There he meets the mysterious owner of the hotel, which has withered to “a desolate and slovenly hulk, with the veneer of Soviet-era prefab décor,” as Richard Brody of the New York Times describes it. The owner, Zero Moustafa, shares his story with the young writer about how he arrived at owning the hotel. So we step back to 1935, when he is the new hotel lobby boy and young protégé to the revered concierge Gustave H. Gustave is The Grand Budapest. He is involved with its every itty-bitty little detail from the restaurant menu, to the plumbing, and even the satisfaction of the, “rich, old, insecure, vain, superficial, blonde, needy,” hotel guests. It is with the advent of the murder of Gustave’s most beloved guest, Madame D., that the comradery and adventure shared between Zero and Gustave begins. They immediately depart for Schloss Lutz, where the family of Madame D. awaits the reading of her last will in testament. An amendment to the original will grants Gustave H. (tax free) “Boy with Apple.” Madame D.’s villainous son Dmitri assails the amendment and Gustave. The action and adventure that follows takes Zero and Gustave on a mountain chase and back down an alpine obstacle course. They are stopped by SS equivalent officers, and execute a prison break. In the end they are saved by the graces of a gathering of monks, a guild of concierge men, and Zero’s beloved Agatha (Saoirse Ronan). Still courtesy of Columbusalive.The conflict between Dmitri and Gustave eventually dissolves and the reality of WWII enters the story. Although references are made to the war, Anderson does not rehash the same stories we see so much in cinema. Instead we are left with Gustave’s loving demeanor— his lightheartedness and collected air of dignity, “There are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity.” I believe this resonates today. In a world where one cannot escape images and news of war, “civilization,” still thrives within gracious, inviting hosts and individuals whose love and care for people mimics Gustave’s nature. In answer to Gustave’s hopeful and honest testament, I conclude with a poem recited by Agatha, “Whence came these two radiant celestial brothers united for an instant as they crossed the stratosphere of our starry window—one from the east and one from the west.”   For further articles on The Grand Budapest Hotel, see: “THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL”: WES ANDERSON’S ARTISTIC MANIFESTO http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/movies/2014/03/wes-andersons-artistic-manifesto.html “Wes Anderson: ‘We Made A Pastiche’ of Eastern Europe’s Greatest Hits” http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=289423863

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