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Wes Anderson Talks Romanticizing Bygone Eras, Nostalgia & The Imaginary World Of ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’

Photo of Rodrigo Perez By Rodrigo Perez | The Playlist February 7, 2014 at 12:20PM

Berlin: Unless you’re in the genres of fantasy or sci-fi, one can argue no one makes grounded, but idiosyncratic fairy tale-like worlds quite like Wes Anderson. The director’s latest, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” is set in the imaginary country of Zubrowka, an alpine Eastern European nation, and centers on a spa town whose main highlight is the legendary concierge, M. Gustave H, who works at the Grand Budapest Hotel.
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The Grand Budapest Hotel

Berlin: Unless you’re in the genres of fantasy or sci-fi, one can argue no one makes grounded, but idiosyncratic fairy tale-like worlds quite like Wes Anderson. The director’s latest, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” is set in the imaginary country of Zubrowka, an alpine Eastern European nation, and centers on a spa town whose main highlight is the legendary concierge, M. Gustave H, who works at the Grand Budapest Hotel.

Starring Ralph Fiennes as Gustave (in what will be remembered as one of his great performances), and newcomer Tony Revolori as the lobby boy Zero Moustafa, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” might be Anderson’s most ambitious and layered film to date (read our review here). It’s, on the surface, a comedic caper and a murder mystery (inspired by the likes of Agatha Christie, Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder), but it’s also a romanticized look at golden age of culture that no longer exists (it’s also nostalgic for Hollywood films of yore—here’s six trailers from six films that Anderson’s already cited as an influence).

And reflecting on history and WWII (via the writings of famed 1920s author Stefan Zweig), the movie also has darkness around its edges as its nostalgia and melancholy tinge for a bygone era is interrupted by the encroaching fascism of the time. It’s also just a great, very funny adventure, and a wonderful tale of pupils and mentors becoming true blue friends. Co-starring the amazing cast of Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Jude Law, Jason Schwartzman, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric and more, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” also—if that wasn’t enough—spans three time periods throughout history and is bookended by a literary flashback device (much of that explained in our original trailer deconstruction piece) Today, we (and a few other journalists) had the pleasure of sitting down to talk with Wes Anderson in Berlin about his latest creation, its various inspirations, its process, its themes and much much more. Here’s the highlights from that 35-minute conversation. 

Grand Budapest Hotel

The genesis of the story.
This story was inspired by my friend [co-story author] Hugo Guinness. Hugo’s been a friend for years and he’s a painter, but he’s very funny, and written many things. We had this idea to do a story about our friend and we wrote 15, maybe 18 pages of this story that was set in the present and in England and France. And it was a movie up until he steals the painting, without the [literary] Jude Law-[starring] set up. And then we didn’t know what would happen next and we just never did anything with it. And that was eight years ago.

The literary influence that covers the movie.
And then I made a couple of other movies and I started reading these Stefan Zweig books I’d never heard of before and I really loved them [ed. who Zweig is and more explained during the ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’ press conference]. And I started thinking I’d like to do something like a Zweig-esque thing and then I was reading some other things at the same time that were getting into equally dark times in Europe and I just thought to mix these [ideas] together. Then I had the idea to make him a hotel concierge which was not related to anything before it.  

Anyway, we combined all that stuff and I thought, "I don’t want to censor myself, I want to be totally free with it, we’re in a made up country, we’re mixing wars together." And we’re mixing up nationalities and cultures, and this kid [Zero Moustafa], a stateless person. Stateless is a big word in that time and place and he’s from—I don’t know if he’s an Arab or a Jew or some mixture of them. And I don’t know what happens, there’s a war starting in 1932 and that’s not exactly lining up with [history], so I just felt like we’ll make our own experience however we want. Everything I’m interested will go in there, everybody already knows all this [real history], and we’ll just see how it all adds up.

Anderson knew the audience would understand historical allusions and thematic references.
Well, it’s a choice to make a movie that is in that world. And even though it isn’t an exact time and place, it is. We know what we’re referring to and drawing on. Everybody knows all that. Especially during that [era]—that’s what I was thinking about because of what I was reading about and where I was living.

This article is related to: Interviews, Interview, Interviews, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Berlin International Film Festival, Wes Anderson


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