Wednesday, March 19, 2014

"The Grand Budapest Hotel": wonderful satire of all political ideologies, and of filmmaking itself, as well as rich people's resorts

The Grand Budapest Hotel”, by Wes Anderson, is indeed a grand satire, of both fascism and communism, but also of movie making and of the idle rich class.  It simply makes fun of everything.
The film is layered at three levels.  As it opens, in 1.85:1 aspect a girl reads from a book by “the author” in a cemetery, and then the film switches to 1985, where the Author (Tom Wilkinson) tells us that it is a blessing for a writer to be asked to pen someone else’s story.  I like to pen my own, so I thought that was an interesting point.  
Then the film crops to 2.35:1 to show a dinner between the author and Zero, in 1968, after the hotel, located in the mountains (where it can snow in August) in a fictional eastern European country of Zubrowka, obviously controlled by the Soviet Union, has fallen into disrepair.  Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham as a man in late middle age) took over the hotel, during Nazi occupation, which is shown with a “ZZ” symbol rather than a swastika.  Of course, in real life, Budapest is located in Hungary at low elevation and in flat country.
Zero tells the story of his experience as a “Lobby Boy” (Tony Revolori), when he works for the concierge Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), a bisexual man who does court old ladies.  When one of them shows up dead, he becomes a suspect, which leads eventually the wild chase and escape scenes in the second half of the movie.
The backstory in 1932 is told in the narrowest aspect ratio of 1:33:1, giving the film a look of an old movie, even though it is sharply filmed in garish color with a digital soundtrack comprising Vivaldi mixed with east European folk music (adapted by Andre Desplat).  In using the narrow aspect, it follows an example set two years ago by “The Artist”.
Presenting the film properly could be a challenge.  I saw it today at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield VA.  The full screen is set to be used as 1.85:1 (although by some magical sleight the theater sets up 2.35:1 without the audience noticing when the entire film is in Cinemascope).  To show the dinner scene, the theater cropped vertically, but to show the 1932 story (about 75% of the run time) the film cropped the entire screen horizontally.  This worked well.  Now some theaters use “2.35:1” as the default for the entire screen.  You would want the Cinemascope scenes to be shown this way, and not cropped inside 1.85:1, which is often done in “shorts” film festivals.  I don’t know whether the projection equipment can do this automatically with properly formatted digital masters.   This is important to me, because one of my “Do Ask, Do Tell” scripts, a sci-fi setting, uses two levels of backstory, and manipulating aspect ratios is an easier way to keep the narrative level clear.  (This could have been tried with the movie “Inception” but was not, as it was always 2.35:1.)  I would use the same idea if I thought theaters could show it properly.

The 1932 backstory goes to black and white (on the smallest aspect) toward the end, when the Nazis take over. 
There’s another concept in the film, the reading of the will, which had been set up as a tontine (indeed, the title of a Thomas B. Costain novel).  That could figure into why Gustave is a suspect. 
The chase scenes get pretty wild, especially with outdoor scenes near the observatory and the winter Olympics snowboarding scenes, which Shaun White could have inspired, as well as the earlier jail breakout, almost out of “The Shawshank Redemption”.
The cast contains many A-list actors, including Jason Schwartzman, Jude Law, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum and Harvey Keitel. 

Director Wes Anderson, born in Texas, is now around 45 but looks 30 (like the character Nolan in “Revenge”). 
The official site is here.
There have been other major movies about luxury hotels, including “Hotel” in 1967, with Rod Steiger (set in New Orleans), and Edmund Goulding’s “Grand Hotel” presents a mystery in pre-Nazi Berlin, oblivious to what is about to happen.    

Fox Searchlight skipped the Fox fanfare this time introducing the film, the first time I’ve seen Searchlight not play the entire musical introduction by Alfred Newman (the same as for 20th Century Fox, in use since the 1950s when Cinemascope was introduced).  I prefer that it always be played.   

Picture:  Sierra Nevada, CA (mine, 2012).  

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