I had been looking forward to the release of Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel for quite some time, so when the movie hit the theaters here in Belgium, I just had to go and watch it as soon as I could. With the obligatory popcorn in hand, I was immersed in Wes Wonderland almost immediately and sure as hell not disappointed. Maybe even still a little surprised.
Wes Anderson’s eighth film is a delightful farcical flick. Light, humorous and marked by impeccable comedic timing on the surface, but also a grim portrait of the Horrors of early 20th century Europe underneath. All against the backdrop of the imaginary country of Zubrowka, the Grand Budapest Hotel portrays the atmosphere of the 1930s in a middle European country on the verge of total chaos and mass murder. So slaughter with a side of bubblegum pink it is. Wes wouldn’t compromise his picture perfect microworld for this storyline, nor would we want him to.
Most of the story is told in a flashback as it is being recalled by Zero, the now owner and once lobby boy of the Grand Budapest hotel. At a young age, Zero flees his country and becomes the protégé of the hotel’s flamboyant concierge Mr. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). What happens next is a series of slapstick occurrences including old (but sexually active) ladies, a painting called “Boy with Apple”, colourful pastries and stop motion chase sequences. All with stellar performances by Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham (Zero the older), Tony Revolori (Zero the younger), Willem Dafoe, Saoirse Ronan, Jude Law, Edward Norton, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson.
A Wes Anderson movie never stops when leaving the cinema, does it? It’s always the start of wanting to know more about all the visual impulses you’ve just experienced. At least it is to me. Let’s explore behind the scenes!
The Grand Budapest Hotel was filmed on location in Germany. Mainly in a little town on the border of Poland called Görlitz, but also partly in Berlin. The interior of the grand hotel lobby is actually this Art Nouveau Department store in Görlitz.
The Görlitzer Warenhaus is one of the few Jugendstil stores of this grandeur that survived World War II. The building consists of 6 floors and balconies, and the crew set up their offices on the top floor during filming, while staying in a local hotel all winter.
The store has been out of use since 2010 and proved to be a great location. “In the back of my head I’m always trying to calculate, ‘What am I getting myself into to restore this place as opposed to just building it from scratch?’ It’s always a balance like that. The department store in Görlitz was in perfect condition, just perfect. I mean everything. The stairways, the railings, the chandeliers, the stained-glass ceiling – it was all just immaculate.” production designer Adam Stockhausen tells Dazed Digital.
Using the US Library of Congress archive of photochrom images from 1895 to 1910, and inspired by the Grandhotel Pupp in the Czech Republic, Hotel Adlon in Berlin and The Savoy in London. Wes and his team transformed the dusty, abandoned building into the amazing hotel you see on screen.
The hotel’s pool and spa is actually an early-1900s bathhouse, discovered in Görlitz during production. The hotel restaurant was set in a performance space.
“Görlitz was a big challenge,” says art director Stephan Gessler. “Because Wes loved it there so much, the whole film was shot in and around Görlitz. It was a huge effort in logistics and timing to get all the scenery from Berlin there in time.” Here’s quite the awesome clip of Bill Murray enjoying the availability of Bratwursts close to the set.
Academy award winning Costume Designer Milena Canonero provided the costumes for the Grand Budapest Hotel. Canonero is best known for the costumes she made for movies like A Clockwork Orange, Out of Africa and Marie Antoinette. She previously worked with Wes on movies like The Darjeeling Limited and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and the recent Prada short Castello Cavalcanti. “One has to immerse oneself into his world. I love his world. It seems naive at first glance but it is extremely sophisticated and has many layers,” says the Academy Award–winning costume designer about working with Wes Anderson to Vogue. “Working with Wes is always different because he takes me to different places and different characters and situations, but however different they may be, he creates a world of his own that is very specific to him,” she says. “The more I work for him the more I see he is crystalizing his cinematic style to go with it.”
Canonero was involved in The Grand Budapest Hotel from concept to realization. The goal was to immerse viewers into the Republic of Zubrowka during the interbellum. She also found some great partners in doing so. Prada made Joplin’s (Willem Dafoe) wonderfully detailed leather trench and Madame D.’s (Tilda Swinton) 21-piece luggage (as Louis Vuitton once did before them), and Fendi provided its signature mink embellishments to her Klimt-inspired coat.
Apart from Klimt, photographers like Augustus Sand, Man Ray, George Hurrell, and painters like Kees van Dongen, Tamara de Lempicka and George Grosz served as inspiration.
“The look of each actor has to have its raison d’être.” says Canonero to Vanity Fair. In this case, Tilda Swinton’s coat and Willem Dafoe’s Prada leather trench were important pieces for their characters. For Mr. Gustave that translated to the color of his uniforms.
-3- Set design-
For the outside of the Grand Budapest Anderson decided to use a 2,8m tall handmade miniature model. For the chase sequence, Anderson chose to use stop motion effects rather than computer animated effects. The director feels this is more in line with his aesthetic: “The particular brand of artificiality that I like to use is an old-fashioned one.”
Anderson and production designer Adam Stockhausen did extensive research for the design of the hotel, looking at vintage images, old typography and signs from Eastern Europe.
Michael Lenz painted the background of the hotel and inspired it on the work of 19th century landscape artist Caspar David Friedrich.
-4- Graphic design-
Annie Atkins was the lead graphic designer on the movie and designed every graphic prop used. She’d been working on the not yet released animated feature The Boxtrolls and a designer at the studio recommended her to Wes. Atkins worked closely with Anderson and the production designer Adam Stockhousen to make the State of Zubrowka come to life. Flags, banknotes, postage stamps, everything had to be designed.
For the physical execution of the props, Atkins used traditional methods where she could: a 1930s typewriter for typewritten documents for example, or a dipping pen for handwriting.
The team actually used few typefaces, as most lettering was created by hand. “The beautiful thing about period filmmaking is that you’re creating graphic design for a time before graphic designers existed, per sé. It was really the craftsmen who were the designers: the blacksmith designed the lettering in the cast iron gates; the glazier sculpted the lettering in the stained glass; the sign-painter drew the lettering for the shopfronts; the printer chose the type blocks for the stationery.” Atkins tells Creative Review.
The Grand Budapest Hotel sign was based on an old hotel sign from 1930s Cairo. It’s the little details like the uneven hand-drawn lettering that Wes loves. “On the one hand he’s a perfectionist; on the other hand he doesn’t want anything to look machine-made, or digitally produced in any way.” says Atkins. For the 1960’s lobby, the signage was based on examples Wes and Adam had seen in the former communist East Germany. “Don’t do this, don’t do that, do this but only like that!” The style has been based on an old sign at Yorckstraße subway station in Berlin.
Ernst Lubitsch was a real inspiration for graphic design for the movie. “Actually, I don’t think it’s just the art direction of the film that was influenced by Lubistch, but also the action–he gave the same films to Jeff Goldblum, Adrien Brody, and the other actors to study, too.” Atkins tells Nylon.
Even though much of her work will never be seen by a cinema audience, it’s still necessary to create a world that inspires the actors. For example, Ralph Fiennes’ Mr. Gustave had a personalized notebook with lined pages, rather than blank, as the actor felt it was more in sync with Gustave’s style.
Annie’s favorite piece in the movie is the pink hardback that opens the story. She got to take one of the pieces home after shooting.
The idea of the movie came in two parts. In a bookshop in Paris Anderson discovered a novel called Beware of Pity, by the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig. That led him to another work of Zweig: The Post Office Girl. This is a story in which a postal clerk is summoned to a grand hotel by her aunt, who then presents her as a society beauty. “I loved the way Zweig often sets the stage for his stories by having his narrator meet a mysterious figure who goes on to tell him the whole novel. And I could feel a movie coming out of this.” Anderson tells The Telegraph.
The part about a character who inherits a valuable portrait from an elderly admirer, much to the disgust of his admirer’s family was based on a concept he and his friend Hugo Guinness, had been thinking about for years. Anderson decided to piece the two ideas together. Thank God he did.
Images by Fox Searchlight Pictures
Picture of The Görlitzer Warenhaus via Wikipedia