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Release Year: 2014
Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Drama
Director: Wes Anderson
Writer: Wes Anderson, Hugo Guinness, Stefan Zweig (writings)
You know Wes Anderson.
You see his stylistic footprint on weddings, parties, and greeting cards. You know his score of choice—a dependable mix of '60s and '70s hits—from a mile away. You also know his subject matter: eccentric families, lovable weirdoes, bizarre artists, and… war?
Wait a sec.
Wes Anderson and war in the same sentence? Don't we mean "Wes Anderson and vintage record players"? "Wes Anderson and funky taxidermy"? "Wes Anderson and pastel color palettes"?
Nope. In The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson tackles the least twee subject of all: massive, soul-destroying, horrifying war.
Make that the second least twee subject of all, the first being that humans are born to die and their memory is destined to fade away forever… which is also a subject tackled by The Grand Budapest.
Wes Anderson's most-lauded film is like a Mendl's confection with a metal file inside. It's like a meek young lobby boy with a terrifying past. It's like the Grand Budapest Hotel itself: a rosy-colored, soft-carpeted dreamland that nevertheless holds a sobering collection of sordid secrets.
That's probably the very reason this film is so praised: it takes all the delicious twee set-dressing of your average Wes Anderson joint and quadruples the melancholy and angst.
The central narrative follows a doe-eyed young lobby boy (twee) as he meets his charismatic, highly-perfumed mentor (twee). They confront the murder of an infamously wealthy widow (slightly less twee), break out of prison in a wacky way (pretty twee), watch various people get murdered (not twee), and watch their country fall into the grip of Fascism (ooh—definitely not twee). Oh yeah—and then everyone the lobby boy loves dies off (gulp—not twee), he falls into lonely old age (yeesh—not twee), and eventually dies alone (cripes—not twee).
But never for a moment is The Grand Budapest a downer: it's too lively, too outright hilarious, and too dependably Wes Anderson-beautiful to have you slumped on the couch drinking melted ice cream from the container in a futile effort to staunch your existential pain. The characters are totally weird and affable, and the script is a whirlwind of non-sequiturs and sight gags.
Maybe that's why this movie is so startling in its emotional impact. The melancholy is so well wrapped in Wes Anderson fun that you forget it's there… until it hits you. This is emotion in stealth mode. It's a spoonful of sugar helping the medicine go down.
That's probably why this film nabbed Oscars for Costume, Makeup, Production Design, and Score… and got nominated for five other Oscars besides. Grand Budapest seems to have officially taken Anderson from a quirky indie director to a blockbuster star.
So grab a Courtesan au Chocolat, spritz yourself in L'air de Panache, and take a seat on the finest funicular in Zubrowka.
Your room in the Grand Budapest Hotel awaits you.
We could take the easy route and say "You should study The Grand Budapest Hotel if you want to learn how to craft perfect miniature models of pink hotels." We could say "You should study The Grand Budapest if you want a crash course in highly stylized movies—check out how none of the characters ever moves at a diagonal." We could even say "You should study The Grand Budapest if you're interested in learning the art of snappy, outrageous, quirky dialogue."
The easy route is for suckers, though.
In our humble Shmoop-pinion, you should peep The Grand Budapest because it's a case study in how to balance emotion in literature. Yeah, we know. That sounds ponderous and kind of feelings-share-y—and we hate things that are ponderous and feelings-share-y…
…which is exactly why we heart The Grand Budapest Hotel so hard.
The first time you watch this film, it's a hilarious romp. The second time you watch this film, it's a pretty devastating look at mid-century Europe and the fact that every human is gonna die eventually. The third time you watch this film (no, you don't want to know how many times we've watched this), it's somehow both—it's a romp filled with existential angst; it's a hilarious look at war.
How, though? How can it be all of these things at once? The answer: Wes Anderson magic. Anderson's been juggling the belly laughs and the piercing melancholy for quite a long time now (The Royal Tenenbaums has suicide attempts and cow-pattered mice), but in Grand Budapest it seems as if he's finally found the correct measurements. When Anderson is twee he's super twee, so in this film he balances that sugary adorkable-ness with some serious pain.
Let this be a lesson to you, Shmoopeople—balance is what allows the audience to cycle through emotions in the presence of art. That weird sensation of thinking "This is so cute" followed by "This is so sad" followed by "I really want to eat that Courtesan au Chocolat" is one of the hallmarks of great art.
Disclaimer: it's not the only hallmark of—some films, like Taxi Driver, Mary Poppins, or Star Wars are great works of art because they hit one single emotion out of the park. Finding a balance between different kinds of emotion is uber-tricky. Making those different emotions look as sumptuous as Wes Anderson does is even more tricky.
Prepare yourself, then, before you watch The Grand Budapest. We recommend a box of Kleenex for your tears, a fuzzy pillow to stifle your laughter, an affectionate pet to squeeze during the warm n' fuzzy moments, a box of chocolates to eat during the scenes set at Mendl's bakery, and some gross-tasting nail polish so you don't bite your nails during the harrowing chase scenes.
The erotic painting that replaces Boy with Apple is painted in the style of Egon Schiele, but it's not a Schiele painting. It was done by Rich Pellegrino, whose work impressed Anderson at an art show inspired by Anderson's own movies. (Source)
Johnny Depp was allegedly in the talks to play Gustave during the early casting stages of Grand Budapest. In the end it was Ralph Fiennes who took the role, but Depp went on to produce and star in Mordecai where he played an equally dapper, mustached, silly man who is, like our esteemed concierge, an art thief. (Source)
Unlike many other Anderson films which feature '60s or '70s pop music, Grand Budapest relies on music from the '30s and includes the wondrous instrument known as the balalaika: a three stringed acoustic instrument with a distinct triangular body. (Source)
Ludwig's tattoos are exact replicas of Pere Jules' tattoos in the 1934 film L'Atalante. (Source)
Complete with as much world-building as you could ever want (and honestly much more than you could expect from an adventure-comedy film). Whether it's learning about the war, tourism, or the Lutz school of arts and the culinary evolution, this website has it all (and with some pretty up-tempo music to boot—hooray for niche viral marketing).
The Budapest Bible
If you're a serious Grand Budapest fan, then you won't be able to live without Matt Zoller Seitz's latest companion book to the movie, complete with all sorts of interviews and insight. It's a treat that only Mendl could match.
Fancy Perfumes, Old Hotels, and Aspect Ratios
A Times interview where our boys Wes and Ralph give some great insight into their film, especially including Gustave, his character, and his code of honor. Sit down from a minute (or fifty) and learn a thing or two.
The Grand Overlook Hotel
You may not have known this, but the Overlook hotel in Kubrick's The Shining is actually the one and only Grand Budapest Hotel we've come to love. When Jack gets in the middle of Gustave's wild escapades, things start to get crazy.
The Delicacies of Creating the Courtesan au Chocolat
That's right folks, watch this accurate and thematically appropriate video recipe and you'll be making your very own Mendl's Courtesan au Chocolat in no time and eating them a few hours after that… we never said it was going to be easy.
Bringing Zubrowka to Life
Don't have time for a couple hours of behind the scenes footage? Here's a quick little taste of the creation of the film and the directing mind of Anderson.
A Budapest Smörgåsbord with Wes
Anderson breaks down everything from Gustave's inspiration to the creation of Zubrowka and working with the various cast members. Don't worry; it's only seven minutes and not chock full of elitist director jargon.
Will There Be War?
Yes, there will definitely be war.
Scaling the Budapest
Aren't you curious about what the Grand Budapest Hotel actually looks like in real life? Here it is, in all it's… err, glory?
A "self-proclaimed Wes Anderson" (guess we'll never know if he really is) and professional artists draw us a, uh, beautiful portrait of the Grand Budapest cast. Take a look for yourself.