Wes Anderson’s oeuvre has always been about filmmaking. His films are delivered with so many winks to the audience that often feels like he is at pains to remind his viewers that they are simply observing a world at work and that that world is so far removed from our own. His penchant for meticulous framing, bright colour palettes and lovingly constructed models are all parts of the very specific reality of filmmaking. Anderson uses a madcap murder mystery to comment on cinematic storytelling as a whole in his latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel.
The narrative is a classic story within a story. Author (Tom Wilkinson) introduces the tale as “a relation of events as they were described to me.” This prologue is set in 1985, Anderson captures this in the corresponding aspect ratio of filming at the time; 1.85.1. That aspect ratio is familiar to us and at first glance looks similar to the average television screen. However, as the Author (played in his younger version by Jude Law) visits The Grand Budapest in the 1960s, the ratio changes to the more familiar ‘cinematic’ 2.35.1 (widescreen). ‘The box’ (‘Academy ratio’) frames the action that takes place in the 1930s, constituting the majority of the film. To a modern audience, this may be disorientating or alienating but it underlines an important aspects of Anderson’s sensibility; he wants to remind the audience of the craft that they are observing. Craft and history are intrinsically linked, and so the use of these visual cues provide the audience with a connection to the real world. It is a technique that does not immerse the audience in Anderson’s world so much as serve as a playful reminder of the media’s history. Because the story of The Grand Budapest is a generational one, the three narrators’ tales (Zero, as well as the older and younger Author) are framed in a way that reflects that.
Beyond the visual cue, the films narrative within narrative demonstrates a deeper appreciation for film as storytelling. While describing the development of Pulp Fiction in an interview with Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey network, filmmaker Quentin Tarantino said this: “… do movies the way novels tell stories… That [is] inherently cinematic.” Grand Budapest takes this approach itself. The film begins in the 1980s, with an unidentified character opening the Author’s last book. The Author then takes the role of narrator, explaining that he is simply passing a story to a new generation. In The Film Experience: an Introduction Corrigan and White posit “We respond actively to films, often in terms of different ages, backgrounds, educational levels, interests and geographical locations.” While these terms may seem to have little relevance in Anderson’s slice of non-history (as no member of his audience has actually been to of Republic of Zubrowka) they are applicable to the passing down of the central story from Zero to Author, and from Author to audience. Wes Anderson understands this translation, and delights in making the audience aware of it.
The Grand Budapest Hotel. Dir. Anderson, Wes. Mondadori,2013.
Corrigan,Timothy and Patricia White. The Film Experience: An Introduction.3rd ed. Bedford/St. Martins.2012.Print.