Blog Directory CineVerse: A glimmer of civilization in the barbaric slaughterhouse we know as humanity

A glimmer of civilization in the barbaric slaughterhouse we know as humanity

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Few films move with such boundless and kinetic energy and frenetic momentum as Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel," which takes audiences on a journey across four different eras and several colorful boundaries in Eastern Europe--a journey propelled by richly drawn characters spun from fertile imaginations. There's a lot to digest upon initial viewing, but here are some of the key takeaways discussed at last evening's CineVerse group meeting:

WHAT IS INTERESTING, UNIQUE AND UNEXPECTED ABOUT THIS FILM?
  • It tells a story within a story within a story within a story—essentially using a flashback within a flashback within a flashback, like a set of Russian dolls. Thus, the narrative is epic in scope in terms of its time periods, settings, and characters.
  • Despite it being set in the 1930s, 1960s and 1980s, it’s meant to be resonant and impactful for modern audiences, with the visitor to the grave (happening in current times) standing as a surrogate for the audience as well as possibly a surviving descendant of Agatha (she resembles her for a reason), who had died in that long ago war.
  • It shifts between different aspect ratios and color palettes. 
    • We see classic 1.35:1 Academy framing in the 1930s sequences, which is the era when movies actually used that aspect ratio; later settings are featured in wider frames. The former depicts actors in tighter compositions, suggesting more unity, closeness and camaraderie; the latter depicts actors often set further apart at opposite ends of the frame, insinuating emotional distance, alienation and colder detachment.
    • It employs a bright, saturated pastel color palette within the hotel—suggesting artistry, vibrancy, whimsy and life—but a drab monochromatic scheme when our heroes are on the run, implying that fun and freedom are threatened. 
  • Gustave is a fully realized and colorful personality, yet a walking contradiction. Consider New York Times critic A.O. Scott’s description of him: “Gustave is both courtier and sovereign, a devoted servant to the guests and the capricious, mostly benevolent ruler of the staff. He corrects their slightest lapses of deportment and lectures them endlessly at mealtimes. He is a lover of poetry and also of the elderly women who summon him to their suites, and maybe of a few men as well. Somehow, he is both an ascetic and a sensualist, highly disciplined and completely irresponsible. A thoroughly ridiculous man and at the same time “a glimmer of civilization in the barbaric slaughterhouse we know as humanity.”
  • The bright pastel colors, stylized characterizations and physical traits of some of the players, and artificial facades suggest that this is a kind of fairy tale facsimile of the real world.
WHY DO THE FILMMAKERS CHOOSE FICTIONAL FORCES AND IMAGINARY COUNTRIES? INSTEAD OF HUNGARY OR CZECHOSLOVAKIA, WE GET ZUBROWKA; INSTEAD OF NAZIS OR THE SS WE GET THE ZZ.
  • They likely wanted this to be more of an allegorical tale or fable without burdening the audience with the baggage of real World War II events and tragedies, even though this is undoubtedly meant to represent 1930s Eastern Europe; 
  • This is meant to serve as a cautionary tale about the oppression of people by a totalitarian regime; the results are the same—good people died because of racial hatred, greed, and unchecked power.
  • Essentially, this is a film about the Holocaust, an extremely disturbing and depressing period in history that is difficult to depict onscreen; Anderson and company choose to tell a more lighthearted, comedic tale about the forces driving and effects of the Holocaust without giving us the gruesome details.
  • Writer Norman Eisen with The Atlantic suggests that the “characters are a warm tribute to the three main populations targeted by the Nazis. M. Gustave…is openly bisexual (thousands of men arrested after being condemned as homosexuals were estimated to have died in concentration camps). Zero…is a refugee whose family was slaughtered in their village, standing in for the Roma and other “non-Aryan” ethnic minorities the Holocaust also targeted. The two men are aided throughout by a Jewish lawyer.”
  • Eisen further posited that: “Talking about the most serious subjects with the help of comedy is a long European tradition running from Aristophanes to Voltaire to Jonathan Swift to Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, whose works were a principal influence of the film. That tradition was particularly strong in the real-life Zubrowka, Czechoslovakia, where Jaroslav Hasek’s The Good Soldier Schweik sent up militarism, Franz Kafka’s novels and stories mocked bureaucracy, and Havel’s comic plays helped bring down Communism. These artists recognized that profound issues deserve to be looked at through every single human lens, and no issue is perhaps more profound than the Holocaust, its causes and consequences.”
  • The tone in this film is predominantly comic and ironic, yet there is an undercurrent of darkness and foreboding, accentuated by sudden acts of violence, that can make you feel quite unsettled. 
WHAT THEMES, MESSAGES AND MORALS ARE EXPLORED IN THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL?
  • Grace under pressure, and maintaining dignity and civility in a time of barbarism and hatred. Consider that Gustave puts on airs about being witty, urbane and well-versed, but when faced with the true horrors of what’s happening around him often succumbs to base profanity.
  • Our duty to remember and honor the past, especially those who suffered and died so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have today.
  • Even the most oppressed and disadvantaged can survive and thrive; think about Zero and how his name is fitting. 
  • The pain and longing of a love interrupted.
  • The priceless virtues of tolerance, kindness and compassion can save lives and inspire others.
  • Nostalgia for a bygone time when manners, intentions, craftsmanship and brotherly love mattered. “Times have changed,” as the older Zero says.
  • Fantasy and illusion, as evidenced by the pink and pastel colors, the shots of the fake fa├žade mountain/hotel, the drawn-on mustache, doors that open by themselves, a hitman with teeth like a werewolf, a birthmark in the shape of Mexico, and a jailbreak that’s far too easy.
WHAT OTHER FILMS COME TO MIND AFTER VIEWING THIS ONE?
  • The sophisticated but brave comedies of Ernst Lubitsch, including two that dared poke fun of totalitarian regimes, Ninotchka and To Be or Not to Be.
  • Charles Chaplin’s The Great Dictator
  • Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful
  • Many Hitchcock films, including Torn Curtain, North by Northwest and Vertigo.

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