The Grand Budapest Hotel


The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson (2014)

Wes Anderson, the Auteur Theory and The Quirky


Wes Anderson’s fairy-tale like and lustrous fictional worlds whimsically tickle viewers’ imagination while providing food for thought. At the moment of promotion, release or exposure to the critical minds of film reviewers, it is a mere formality to mention that the film in discussion is one of Anderson’s, as a set language and visual signs are employed that the name Wes Anderson will pop up to our minds. Such is the not-so-established theory of the auteur, which director and visionary Wes Anderson embodies so well.[1] As Peter Wollen writes in The Auteur Theory, applying such a theory ‘consists of tracing a structure (not a message) within the work, which can then post factum be assigned to an individual, the director, on empirical grounds.’[2] Wes Anderson’s visually stunning The Grand Budapest Hotel  is an example of how he, as a director, mirrors the concept of the auteur through idiosyncrasy and the ‘quirky’[3], that are intrinsic to the Andersonian’s dimensions.

It is 1985 when ‘The Author’ (meticulously played by Tom Wilkinson) recounts his first visit to the Grand Budapest Hotel of the title in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka in Central Europe, ‘once the seat of an empire’[4], now decadent and in long forgotten. The Author scene sets the tone that will characterize the narrative. The artificial light hits the author’s face for dramatic effect like on a play set, the intrusion and nuisance of the boy shooting a toy gun at the author’s face while he attempts to set the mood for the story and the camera that moves swiftly to depict the boy in the frame for a mere second as if it was unplanned and spontaneous represent recurrent themes in the narrative. Since the very beginning, we, as viewers, are presented with self-aware characters and visuals, a comic dimension ‘that requires view the fiction as simultaneously absurd and moving, the characters as pathetic as likeable, the world as manifestly artificial and believable.’[5] From the very first shot a compound of artificial lightening, incongruous mood tones and preposterous characters’ actions and reactions depict a world made up of contradictions and artificiality against spontaneity. We are dubious about the truthfulness of the events happening, but we choose to believe that this parallel world exists, allowing the narrative to express itself and the characters to unveil their human side.

In a flashback to 1968 the younger Author meets the owner of the Grand Budapest Hotel (F. Murray Abraham), whom invites him to dine in his company, and recounts the story of how he became the owner of the hotel, starting as poor Zero the lobby-boy. In a glossy animated vignette the Budapest Hotel is shown for the first time. A majestic shocking pink palace that sits on the top of a mountain, reachable via the so-called Colonnade Funicular only. The hotel is described as a ‘doll’s house’ that resembles ‘something a very lonely, clever 13 year-old boy might have designed while never leaving his bedroom’[6] in the same review of the film by Peter Bradshaw. The seeming contradiction of the doll’s house envisioned by a boy arguably sums up Wes Anderson’s preoccupation with depicting possible parallel worlds where gender and behaviour do not have their hands tied together, but where possibilities exists and characters fight against conventions. More specifically, in his films, Anderson is concerned with youth, boyhood, seemingly immature adults and family disruption (to name a few, Bottle Rocket (1996), Rushmore (1998), The Darjeeling Limited (2007) and Moonrise Kingdom (2012).[7] [8] It is not a case, then, that The Grand Budapest’s main characters are Zero, a heterosexual teenager and M. Gustave, a seemingly bisexual middle age man with a sensitivity and restlessness of the immature young adult, but with a strong sexual appeal to old ladies that visit the hotel, which arguably represent the sexual fantasies of a teenage boy.


Figure 1 The Train Scene – Deadpan Comedy Against the Tragedy of the War


The film’s ‘deadpan’ comedic style and the narrative self-awareness are best explained by the train scene soon after the beginning of the film. Zero becomes M. Gustave right arm in managing the workings of the hotel when Madame D. (Tilda Swinton’s cameo is perhaps the most memorable in her career), an old and extremely wealthy old lady to whom Gustave is attracted, is murdered. M. Gustave and Zero sets out for Lutz for the reading of Madame D.’s will. When the train reaches the borders, they are stopped by the occupying fascist army the uniform of which is reminiscent of the SS Nazi guards (Figure 1). Zero is a war refugee from a Middle Eastern country who endured sufferings and pain, and when his temporary but valid passport is checked, he is held aback by the guards while M. Gustave struggles to free him from their grip. In an unusual sequence of shots we witness the chaos of the struggle between the parts, when Gustave shouts ‘you filthy, goddamn, pock-marked, fascist assholes/you cannot arrest him simply because he is a bloody immigrant, he hasn’t done anything wrong.’[9]  It is almost impossible not to think to the current refugee crisis in Europe where strict measures and closed up borders of many countries represent, perhaps, the most appalling humanitarian call worldwide in history. When they are finally freed and left unharmed thanks to M. Gustave’s status of chief concierge at the Budapest Hotel, he states: ‘You see? There are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughter house that was once known as humanity. Indeed, that’s what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant… Oh, fuck it’.[10] His expressions and extremely upbeat rhythm of the scene suggest a veil of irony cast over the tragedy of the threat to solidarity and humanity, which ultimately embodies the duality of tone of the film, namely ‘the quirky sensitivity.’[11] As James MacDowell states in ‘Notes on Quirky’, the style of the quirky is ‘dry, perfunctory, excessively functional, taking a situation and line that we might expect to be made dramatic […] and downplaying them almost to the point of absurdity.’[12] The quirky accompanies the film throughout and puts the idea of eternal childhood in contrast with war and violence. Ultimately, naivety and extravagance wins over repression and attacks to freedom, as the comedic style never lets down the narrative.

The concept of the auteur is not an easy one. It stands between Hollywood and independent cinema. It serves the artistic vision of the director as author and ultimately exists to fulfil financial gain and marketing strategies typical of the Hollywood film industry. We Anderson embodies the contemporary auteur for the way he seems to brand his films with the quirky and preoccupations with maleness and youth. The Grand Budapest Hotel is an example of that for its male and, to a certain extent, young characters whose artificial personality and behaviour clash with the harsh reality of the war and crisis, but win at the end thanks to resilience and goodwill.







[1] Peter Wollen, ‘The Auteur Theory’, in in Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, ed. by Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen, 5th ed., (New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1999), pp. 519-535 (p. 519).

[2] Wollen, p. 532.

[3] James Mac Dowell, ‘Notes on Quirky’, Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism, 1 (2010), pp. 1-16 (p.1). [Accessed 11/03/2016].

[4] The Grand Budapest Hotel. Dir. Wes Anderson. Fox Searchlight Pictures. 2014. [DVD]

[5] James Mac Dowell, ‘Notes on Quirky’, Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism, 1 (2010), pp. 1-16 (p.4). [Accessed 11/03/2016].


[6] Peter Bradshaw, ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel Review’, The Guardian, 6th March 2014. [Accessed 11/03/2016].

[7] Devin Orgeron, ‘La Camera-Crayola: Authorships Comes of Age in the Cinema o Wes Anderson’, Cinema Journal, 46.2 ( Winter 2007), pp. 40-65 (p.44)

[8] Orgeron, p.49.

[9] The Grand Budapest Hotel. Dir. Wes Anderson. Fox Searchlight Pictures. 2014. [DVD]

[10] The Grand Budapest Hotel

[11] James Mac Dowell, ‘Notes on Quirky’, Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism, 1 (2010), pp. 1-16 (p.3). [Accessed 11/03/2016].

[12] James Mac Dowell, ‘Notes on Quirky’, Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism, 1 (2010), pp. 1-16 (p.3). [Accessed 11/03/2016].


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