The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) – A Visual Novel
We date with stories either through words or moving images. Books and comics are the mediums of the prior and Theatre and Cinema are those of the later. Art and literature have got their unique language. When they amalgamate in some works it gives an entirely different experience to the reader or the viewer.
Frank Miller’s Sin City (2005) remains one of the most favourites for as it brought to screen the aesthetics of the graphic novels. The traits of the graphic novel when brought to screen became an altogether different visual experience. Wes Anderson better known for his trademark making style meets us with ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ after his ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ (2012). And this time his work is nothing short of an artistic triumph of translating a novel reading experience on screen, from screenplay to production design, from camera angles to camera movements.
Though this cinema is categorized under the comedy genre, in my view its presentation alone seems to cling on the satirical tone, throughout. Nonetheless the jail breaking episode and the final shoot out in the hotel are pure comedies. Besides, the structure of the plot follows the story-with-in-a-story format, which is divided into chapters just like novels. The film opens with a teen aged girl paying her tribute to her favourite author in a cemetery. She opens up the book of the same name of the film and the tale unfolds.
Anderson intends to create the reading like experience with his visuals. It could be noted that throughout the film predominantly the camera pans from left to right just like our eye movements during reading. I stayed with the girl by her side soon after she opens page one in her book, and entirely read the picturesque moving images that followed after. The author, who shares the experience about his tri to hotel in 1968, could be deciphered as the girl reading the preface of the book. Also the film that remains in wide screen turns into a square format (just like 35mm films) to insist on the transition of the story, within the story.
A young writer (Jude Law) who stays in the, now waning, Grand Budapest hotel (in the fictitious republic of Zubrowka) is curious about Aero Moustafa (Murray Abraham). He willingly shares his tale during a dinner on invitation with the writer. The tale within the tale opens.
The rest of the story slips back to the 1930s where we see the ever charismatic and legendary concierge Monsieur Gustave .H. Many flock to the hotel just because of this admirable gentleman. Zero who joins as the young lobby boy wins the goodwill of Gustave soon. The concierge, who courts older rich woman, takes on a trip, accompanied by Zero, to pay his last respect to one of his regular customers- who has been mysteriously murdered- Madame D.
Madame D in her will gift him with ‘The boy and the apple’; a painting with artistic value and this invites an outrage from her family members, her son Dimitri (Adrein Brody) in particular. With Zero’s help Gustave manages take the painting with him before leaving. The rest of the film features the adventures of the duo.
Besides the regular panning shots of the camera, the frames changes frequently and completely without dissolving, as if one flips the pages of a coffee table book page after page. The editing is so crisp that it almost seamlessly cuts through one frame and enters in to another. The camera moves in fashion as if its bound by some geometrical rule and the sharp and hasty movements of the character is followed in the same pace by the camera.
The production design is an exquisite visual treat to the eyes. Every single frame is meticulously crafted with a torrent of colours and eye popping beauty and this is one of the best visually crafted films in recent memory. The last work in my memory is Tarsem Singh’s ‘The Fall’ (2006) and couldn’t avoid the thoughts of imageries from Michelangelo Antonioni’s ‘Blow-Up’ (1966).
This is a heavily star studded package, perhaps to the likes of Pulp Fiction, where everyone has doe their part well and Ralph Fiennes together with Tony Revolori as young Zero steals the show.