“His world had vanished long before he entered it. But he sustained the illusion with a marvelous grace." For all its idiosyncrasies, screwball-like speed, exquisite attention to detail, style and craft and some hilariously vulgar humor, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Wes Anderson’s eighth feature-length film, might be one of his most soulful in some time. That aforementioned quote might be the heart and soul of the movie too; a beautiful and melancholy adage about a refined character who refused to behave without elegance despite the barbaric age that society was devolving into.
In “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” a charming murder mystery and crime caper set against the backdrop of a troubled Eastern Europe about to head into an era of fascism, Ralph Fiennes stars as Gustave H., a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel who enchants his guests with a renowned hospitality that makes the mountain chalet the destination of the wealthy and affluent in Europe. A new lobby boy (Tony Revolori), the mysterious death of an aged guest (Tilda Swinton) and the disappearance of a priceless painting (Boy With Apple) set off a chain of events that make for a madcap adventure. But of course, it all comes with a price and ends up much more poignant than you’d expect.
The film is also one of Wes Anderson’s most ambitious works. Multi-layered, it rolls a few genres into one, is set in three different time periods, told in flashbacks, features animation, stop-motion photography and also includes some of the most dynamic action sequences of the filmmaker’s career (even if they are shot in some of the most peculiar and unexpected ways). We recently sat down with Wes Anderson to talk about “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” but also — like the movie that is nostalgic for the past — look back at earlier moments in the director’s career (“Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” ‘The Life Aquatic’ and more) and hopefully give a wider context to where the filmmaker is at now. The full interview is below. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” opens in limited release this weekend.
You already mentioned in Berlin that you and co-story writer Hugo Guinness conceived of this story eight years ago, but let it sit. If you would have written the screenplay back then, would it have been very different?
No, I think it was this movie. I think we just didn't know — we did write what we had at the time. So it wasn't typed up into a script but there were many scenes, and scenes that are in this movie. But they weren't in the context of central Europe, 1932. They were set in present day.
Well, that’s pretty different, no? Did the period and setting come later when you read Stefan Zweig?
It came about when I read Zweig, yes, and I started thinking I'd like to — reading that and other things from that period of history. But I think part of why [Hugo and I] couldn't finish, why we didn't really expand or get so far in our original [concept] is because we didn't have enough of an idea of how this could be a movie. So it was missing ingredients.
What is the “thing” in Zweig that helped you unlock the story? That made you know it was a movie?
I think it wasn't just one thing, it was a combination of things. It was the form of some of his fiction — which often is somebody's recollection, somebody meets somebody and they tell them a story and that's our thing. Zweig’s description of the pre-1914 Vienna in Europe; this portrait that he paints in his memoir and even just his voice and presence as a writer. The feeling you get about him. That became part of our thing too. In a way we represent him with both Tom Wilkinson, and Jude Law, and kind of a bit Ralph Fiennes also even. So he kind of went in there in a lot of ways.
There’s that terrific line about the character in the end: “His world had vanished long before he entered it. But he sustained the illusion with a marvelous grace."
Yeah, I think that kind of comes from Zweig in a way. It's not a quote from Zweig, but it's what he seems to say in his life.
The title of one of Zweig’s books, “The World Of Yesterday,” that could have been a working title for this film.
I think you're right.
This is a first script that you wrote on your own [Guinness only has a co-story credit] How is that different?
Well, it wasn't really different. I probably should have just given Hugo the shared screenplay credit. Usually what happens in a lot of movies is I'm working with somebody. I do a lot myself and then I do a lot of the writing myself and then they help, they help me some more and then I go off on my own. So in a way it was just sort of like this time I thought, “Well, I think I've done enough of this on my own.” Hugo has a million lines in there so it's not entirely fair though.
Is there a difference between a Wes Anderson movie that's written with Owen Wilson or one with Noah Baumbach or Roman Coppola? How do they vary?
I think Noah says, “I'm working with Wes with the idea of doing his thing" and it's different from his own films, you know? His films are written by him alone, he's also done two that are written with Greta [Gerwig] and he collaborated with Jennifer Jason Leigh, his ex-wife. Those guys voices are in all of these movies that they worked on with me. So there's a basic difference, which is just that personality. But how it exactly expresses itself I don't know. I couldn't put my finger on it.