Movie: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Director: Wes Anderson
Composer: Alexandre Desplat
Centered shots, beautiful colors, wonderful characters, amazing storytelling, solid cast, and mellifluous music are usually the most common ways of describing a Wes Anderson film. In the same category as Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Edgar Wright, and even Steven Spielberg, Wes Anderson is a director that has developed his own particular style. Even if his movies are very different in terms of character and storytelling, the visual and auditory themes usually persevere from one title to another. Like I said, there are a ton of ways to describe Wes Anderson’s style but if we focus on the technical side of things, centered shots and mellifluous music usually distinguish themselves more than the other aspects. These elements are what makes Anderson’s style so distinctive and that’s why I want to talk about The Grand Budapest Hotel in this week’s entry.
If you haven’t seen The Grand Budapest Hotel, I urge you to stop reading this blog and go watch it right now. I can’t tell you how much I love this film; it’s the kind of movie that reminds me why I want to work in the movie making industry. I rarely smile whenever I watch a movie but I keep catching myself having a huge grin on my face whenever I watch this film. Why is it so good though? Well, to put it simply: it’s original. I was watching the movie with a friend the other day and he confessed that the centered shots were something that kept bugging him. I instinctively called him an idiot that doesn’t understand cinema, but I can understand where he came from. Also, I’ve known him for 14 years so the insult was more of a joke than an actual attack. Back to the subject at hand though, there are a number of elements in this movie that do not respect the conventional “rules” of cinema. Anderson’s constant use of centered shots is probably the most obvious rule to be broken, but I believe it’s what makes the movie so great. Again: it’s original. Going in the same direction, the movie’s soundtrack is another aspect that feels fresh.
Nowadays, it’s not that common that a movie’s soundtrack reflects perfectly its style and genre. Pay close attention to the words I’m using, I’m not talking about emotion nor am I talking about atmosphere. I’m talking about style and genre; it’s all about nuance my friends. If you were to ask someone who’s never seen a Star Wars film to tell you the style and genre of the franchise just by listening to the music, chances are that he or she won’t get it right. There’s nothing wrong about that; orchestral music takes up the majority of the film music industry but it’s fun to get a soundtrack that nails its movie’s style and genre once in a while. These are soundtracks like the not too futuristic styled music that Arcade Fire composed for Her. It’s the wonderful baselines and fantastic guitar riffs that David Holmes created for the Ocean’s Trilogy. It’s even Ennio Morricone’s work on most of Sergio Leone’s western styled filmography. Such is the case for The Grand Budapest Hotel; Alexandre Desplat was able to create a soundtrack that fits perfectly with the movie’s distinctive style and genre.
But how exactly did Desplat actually achieve that? For starters, Desplat owes a lot to Wes Anderson’s discovery of the balalaika, a triangular-shaped Russian folk instrument that he handpicked specifically for the movie. Anderson’s decision to use the balalaika in the soundtrack was then amplified when Desplat gathered several dozens of players from Russia and France so they could form a sort of balalaika orchestra. That is why the soundtrack represents the movie’s style and genre so well, because Anderson’s Northern European inspired country of Zubrowka has its own style of music. Part of creating a world is making it seem real, and a major part of that realism comes from the world’s culture and history. The simple decision of using a Russian folk mandolin as the soundtrack’s main instrument adds a lot of depth to the movie’s fictional world. Having the same soundtrack being played by a piano or an orchestra would’ve made the movie less enjoyable to watch. Why? Because we would’ve subconsciously known that this is a fictionalized world created for the sole purpose of serving this movie’s story. By using the balalaika, the music actually has a bit of storytelling to it because it adds elements of culture to Anderson’s fictional world. Oh and it also helps that the soundtrack is great to listen too.
Look, I just fucking love this movie and I can’t stop recommending it to anybody who hasn’t seen it. I’m getting ahead of myself again, I shall leave you with a great quote from Monsieur Gustave (the movie’s main character) that summarizes half of my school work and occasionally this blog, “You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that’s what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant… oh, fuck it.”
Interesting trivia: Alexandre Desplat’s Oscar for Best Original Score marks the first time a comedy has won the award since Shakespeare in Love (1998), though in that year the Academy had two categories for score (Dramatic Score and Comedy or Musical Score). Consequently, it is the first comedy score to win without two categories ever since One Hundred Men and a Girl (1937).
I’ve attempted to select three songs that accurately represent the movie’s atmosphere, but this soundtrack contains 32 pieces. Thus, if you don’t like the three suggestions, I implore you to find the soundtrack somewhere online because it has other pieces that are just as brilliant.
Song: Mr. Moustafa
Song: The New Lobby Boy
Song: The Society Of The Crossed Keys
Thanks for reading (and listening). See you next week!