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 Michael Bergeron
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Anderson’s aspects boost Budapest Hotel

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Never before at SXSW Film have I seen a line as long as the one for “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” When I arrived over 90 minutes early, the queue was already wrapped from in front of the Paramount Theatre on Congress and down a full city block on E. 8th Street. Then the line took a snakelike turn on Brazos Street, southward to 7th Street, only to reverse in a serpentine manner in a northerly direction all the way back to 8th, across the street and all the way to 9th Street where it continued in a westerly direction on E. 9th Street all the way to Congress. The paper vouchers for entrance were no longer being handed out.

The Paramount holds approximately 1,200 warm bodies and was already at capacity. Of course I had seen the film earlier, but wanted to see it again, which I did because it was opening the next weekend, in advance of interviewing its writer/director Wes Anderson.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” takes place over a period of time ranging from 1932, to 1968, and a generation after that. All three periods are shot in a different aspect ratio, from boxy to widescreen; specifically 1.37:1, 1.85:1 or widescreen, and 2.40:1 anamorphic. Once again, Wes Anderson has proven that he’s one of the most unique voices in modern cinema.

Free Press Houston sat down with Anderson the following morning. Anderson, who grew up in Houston, and who lived in Austin when he attended the University of Texas, was quick to point out how the capital city had morphed in the nearly two decades since he lived there.

“I just arrived about a week ago in New York. I hadn’t set foot in America in more than two-and-a-half years,” said Anderson. “I went to Europe for the ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ premiere at Cannes and I never came back.”

“It’s been so long since I was in Austin. Yesterday I went around UT campus, all these places I hadn’t seen in so long; and then I went to this place I used to live at – it was very strange,” remarked Anderson. “This city’s changed a lot.”

About the style of “Grand Budapest Hotel”, Anderson noted that “Hollywood movies from the ‘30s had a different kind of pace and energy. We gave our story the rhythms from that time.” Specifically, Anderson’s characters were influenced by the literature of Stefan Zweig. But there’s also a bit of the Ernst Lubitsch touch. Lubitsch was a European director in the silent era that made the transition to Hollywood in the 1920s.

“We ended up imitating a Lubitsch kind of thing, but it wasn’t something we planned. I thought we were writing something that would be slower and sadder and more elegiac. The part of the story with Jude Law and F. Murray Abraham has a different kind of pace. Once this character that Ralph [Fiennes] plays entered, the movie kind of dictated that it was going to be something else.” While the cast features nearly two dozen name actors, two players are dominant: Ralph Fiennes as the hotel concierge M. Gustave and Tony Revolori as apprentice bellboy Zero.

“Gustave has friendships with these older women, they’re romantic relationships but there are also … there’s a degree to where he’s a bit of a gigolo, he’s sort of using them. But that’s just an aspect of these relationships because fundamentally they’re good friends. They do sort of love each other,” explained Anderson. “Gustave gets asked in a section that got cut from the movie ‘Are you straight or are you gay?’ And he says ‘A little bit of each and not enough of either.’”

Working with a large ensemble cast was second nature to Anderson. Audiences have come to expect seeing some of the same actors in each of his films, while also looking forward to new performers to the Anderson parade. “Sometimes in movies I’ve had a thing where it’s a puzzle, how to get everybody scheduled. ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ was bit tricky like that. We were having trouble, one actor whose part is done almost entirely without the other actors, but they have a tiny overlap and yet they’re working weeks apart from each other. How are we going to sort this out?”

“For ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, a few people were shot quickly like Murray and Jude and Jason Schwartzman; their part was its own little shoot and nobody else needed to be there. Harvey Keitel we had for a week, but then Harvey wanted to come early, because he wanted to live in the prison with his other inmates before doing his scenes. If somebody wants to go live in a prison to get into character that’s amazing,” Anderson said.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is not without Anderson’s typical dark humor. About a cat that gets tossed out a window by an evil Willem Dafoe, Anderson stated: “I’ve had a few dogs get killed, run over by a car [“The Royal Tenenbaums”], get hit by an arrow [“Moonrise Kingdom”]. In this movie we have a few dogs, like the St. Bernard, who make it through, it’s just the one cat.” Smiling, Anderson mused, “If I was a cat, I would want a good part. There are a lot of actors who want a good death scene. It would be unfair to the animal to take that away from him.”

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