A Stupid Opinion of the Visual Style of Two Fictional Hotels

27 Mar

I saw The Grand Budapest Hotel and immediately went on a cinematic tour of hotels. The next film was Wong Kar-Wai’s 2046, the title comes from a room in boarding hotel. It was such a juxtaposition that I ended my tour right there.  The contrast and similarities of the two films sparked this stupid opinion. On the surface, the two hotels couldn’t be less alike; The Grand Budapest Hotel is mostly the height of style and sophistication whereas the Oriental Hotel in 2046 is a neglected hotel where more guests live than spend vacation. Even in the later years of the Grand Budapest, it still had more class than the hotel in 2046. Despite the differences of the hotels, they both guide the visual aesthetic of their respective films.


The Grand Budapest Hotel serves as the visual touchstone to the film. Even in its drab, rundown, communistic seventies interiors at the beginning of the film, it fits into the aesthetic of Wes Anderson. Then when the story returns to the hotel’s heyday, the pinks and purples launch the film into a whole new level of extravagant details that flood the senses. The hotel takes what Wes Anderson started in The Royal Tenenbaums and balloons it to the point right before it could burst in an explosion of corduroy, velvet and hastily tied bow ties. The hotel sets a high standard and the film attempts to fill the visual splendor with complimentary costumed characters. The cinematographer, Robert Yeoman, is able to capture all the perfectly centered scenes that really show the attention to detail that Anderson excels at. I have no doubt that Anderson had extensive and heated meetings about the style of lint that accumulates on the carpet of The Grand Budapest, and the wide angles primarily used in the film allow for this to be seen as well as let the story unfold on-screen. The characters interact with the elaborate sets, enjoy their costumes and let the events of the film flow along. It is the perfect visual style for the beautiful world of the plot driven Wes Anderson universe. 


Then on the other side of the coin, we have Wong Kar-Wai’s equally beautiful film 2046. As opposed to the grandness of the Grand Budapest, the Oriental Hotel in 2046 is left almost a complete mystery. The film may not even contain a single wide shot, instead WKW and DP Christopher Doyle opt to go in much tighter. The majority of the film is in medium close to close-up. With these shots the mysterious hotel wouldn’t seem to add much to the visual look of the film, but the slightly rundown hotel provides just enough information to reflect the people residing within its walls. The shots of the characters using the lobby phone cut off the head of the actors, showing the toll and insincerity of interacting with people outside of the hotel. The characters can’t be honest on the phone and have to hide their faces when using it. The rundown green wood-paneled walls are the perfect neutral background that focuses all the attention back on the actors. With the tighter shots, we get a more claustrophobic feeling of living in close proximity to strangers. Which allows the hotel to serve as the metaphoric meeting place for all the damaged characters. This is a beautiful character study of the injured souls that inhabit boarding hotels. 

The plot of 2046 film isn’t as important as the characters or the mood the events of the film create and the hotel supports and enriches those elements, where as The Grand Budapest Hotel uses the plot and the characters to showcase the titular hotel. Both films look stunning and are great examples of masters working their strengths for very different results. Let’s just hope that they never decide to shoot each other’s scripts; that would be a crime against the moving image.



One Response to “A Stupid Opinion of the Visual Style of Two Fictional Hotels”

  1. rckosml March 29, 2014 at 2:16 pm #

    One of my favorite Hotels in Cinema is the Hotel Earle, when Steve Buscemi walks out of the floor and asks “Res or trans?” it sets the tone for strange location.

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