Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel features many notable players: Willem Dafoe, Tilda Swinton, F. Murray Abraham, and presiding above all, Ralph Fiennes as celebrated concierge Monsieur Gustave H. But it is Gustave’s domain, the titular alpine health resort, that figures most prominently in the film, transcending place, time, and political regime. Such an establishment could only exist within Anderson’s cinematic imagination, which dictates the manner in which he introduces it to his viewers. “It’s obviously a model,” says architect Michael Wyetzner in the video above. “It’s fake” — an adjective that, when applied to a Wes Anderson production, can only be a compliment.
Wyetzner surely means it that way, given how much interest he shows through the video in the details of the Grand Budapest Hotel as constructed and revealed, one set at a time, by Anderson and his collaborators. Envisioned as a kind of “French chateau growing out of the mountain,” the building incorporates a mansard roof, a “rusticated base” with the look of an ancient aqueduct, and Art Nouveau canopies of the kind still seen at the entrances of the Paris Métro.
Wyetzner explains the overall image as “one of those sanatoriums you would see in the mountains of Europe up until the nineteen-thirties” but designed by the Secessionists, who intended to “unify architecture, painting, and the decorative arts.”
The atrium, the circular reception desk, the elaborately mullioned windows, the palette of pinks and reds: these features underscore the titular grandeur of the titular hotel. (They also, like the symmetry of so much of its construction, remind us whose movie we’re watching.) But before long, everything changes: the hotel finds itself in the Soviet nineteen-sixties, topped with antennae, paint burnt orange and avocado green, outfitted with plastic laminate and illuminated ceilings. “Soviet architecture has this reputation for being very drab, and very sad, almost,” says Wyetzner, and the “updated” Grand Budapest Hotel reflects this. But the Soviets were also “one of the originators of modernism,” a movement whose stern optimism comes through in the film’s set designs — as, faintly but persistently, does the fin de siècle elegance of the ever-more-distant past.
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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.