It comes as no surprise that my review of The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) regarded the film as the best film of that year. Granted, there are one or two of the tiniest of flaws in the film, but every film has such flaws. No, the beauty of that film came down to the direction from Wes Anderson. For a better word, it was a colourful direction that amazed me when I first watched. It still to this day does amaze me.
Because of that, I feel inclined to share just why this direction works, and what makes a Wes Anderson film so special. He’s unlike any other director, he focuses on the visuals. If you make a visually verbose film, then surely everything else will fall into place. Right?
Arguably the most prominent and important part of The Grand Budapest Hotel is the establishing shot. It’s quite simple really, it’s a camera angle that actually establishes where the characters are and what they’re doing. There are a notable number of examples throughout The Grand Budapest Hotel. The hotel itself is presented in a number of different time periods, from 1963 to 1938. We see the hotel itself develop, alongside the characters themselves.
That’s not to say the establishing shots are solely for the sake of the hotel. They of course stretch much further than that. We see a number of establishing like shots throughout the entirety of the film. We see them to create a sense of depth and range. Establishing shots are important, and looking at his work it seems Anderson most definitely understands that.
Take the scene, for example, where we flashback to 1963, and are first introduced to the hotel itself. All we see is literally a photo of the hotel. What this does is, well it’s hard to explain. When you see the image of the hotel, you immediately gain an opinion of it. That happens with everything, and that’s the point. Not only to show us what this place looks like, but to get your first impressions.
Colour and contrast
Now as I stated in my review, the use of colour can be used to symbolise the current state of the plot. As the plot continues, the colours get darker and much more weary. The eventual climax of the story is literally in black and white, contrasted with the vividly colourful opening scenes. This is done, in my opinion, to open us up to how we should feel during the story.
Now I’m not saying for a second that the film tries to dictate how exactly you should feel at any certain time, but what it does is give you a general understanding. For example, the vivid purple colours we see Gustave H. and Zero wear can be linked into what the colour purple actually represents, royalty. We can see this in the mannerisms of Gustave H. too, his overall appearance and characteristics would link him to being a man of definite scrutiny.
These colours soon fade towards the end of the film, as I stated in my previous paragraphs. Not only does it fade in a general sense, but it fades from the character of Gustave H. We see him turn from the purple royalty, to a prison outfit and finally to a black suit, until we reach the end of the film.
There is something about Wes Anderson films that intrigues me. He uses a symmetrical shot for almost every establishing shot. It’s intriguing, but it’s also effective. Now it doesn’t show any balance or have any impact on the film, but it shows his progress as a director.
A character, event or door is always bang right in the middle of the screen. I gather that this may be because it is the centre of attention, therefore should be right in the centre of the picture. That would make a lot of sense, but there’s something about this that just doesn’t add up. It’s not just for those important events in films, it’s for the shots that, well, don’t matter.
I’m not for a second suggesting they are not needed, but what I mean is that it seems out of place to have a symmetrical shot for certain parts of the film. You may not even notice it is happening. Shots like the opening of the Lutz gate and Agatha running down a corridor are perfectly symmetrical. The character or object is always able to be divided equally and split in half horizontally. To me, it’s ingenious, it’s just one of the bonuses to The Grand Budapest Hotel and a little extra for the movie experience.
None of this really matters though, does it? I mean, you can go into this film, watch it, and not notice anything I’ve said. Hell, it’s not as if anything I have said really matters or can even be proven. All this is is a theory. A thought I had while watching a magnificent film.
For me, it’s important that we uncover why certain shots or ideas have been incorporated into a film. Not because I like to know the directors flair, but because it helps us understand the film more. Granted, you can of course watch this film and not notice anything mentioned above, but I’d say that’s very unlikely. You’re more than likely going to notice the colour, that is the stand out part of the film. However making the link between plot and colour, that is entirely up to the viewer.
Still, it’s worth noting that The Grand Budapest Hotel isn’t an “artsy” film. It’s definitely got the stereotypical look of one, absolutely, but by no means does it make it any less enjoyable. It’s great that a film so artistically and meticulously crafted can provide such a wider reading. That’s what Anderson does best.