Filmmaker Retrospective: The Idiosyncratic Cinema of Wes Anderson

5. Hotel Chevalier (2007)

Hotel Chevalier

This 13 minute short movie, which is actually the prequel to The Darjeeling Limited, is a wondrous tale of love, which begins from the middle and seems to give a taste of Jack’s (Jason Schwartzman) character, and his obsession with his girlfriend, which is subtly shown in the movie.

Its precise visual implications, are perfect, especially considering the small amount of time it is presented in. The tiny intricate details found in the hotel room all help create this atmosphere for the viewer, most especially, the iPod on the speakers, seem for once, to give a contemporary feeling to Wes Anderson’s movies, as opposed to the usual either 60’s vibe or timeless aura.

Hotel Chevalier (2007)

In two particular moments, we see Jack’s character really show his true love for his girlfriend, at one moment; when he tries to act stern on the phone, and when his girlfriend’s (Natalie Portman) character asks him whether she can go the hotel, he simply says “Ok.” Also, when she arrives Wes beautifully constructs this ‘awkward’ gesture, as she tries to kiss him, but he simply avoids it to hug her, implicating certain complications in their relationship.

It is truly unexpected; to have a slow-motion sequence in such a short movie, but Wes manages to fit it in a most impressive way, ending the movie. There is a whole ‘build-up’, as Jack asks his girlfriend whether she wanted to watch the view from his balcony, and following this the slow-motion scene takes them out on the balcony.

After they stand there holding each other, they return back in, and the camera zooms out, and pans to an angle of 90 degrees to the left and we see what is a building with typical mid-Victorian, Parisian architecture, and then the credits follow. This intended build up, to this anti-climatic scene, might possibly reflect this movie’s follow-up same build up, and anti-climatic ending.


6. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

wes anderson family

“Strangers on this road we are on, we are not two; we are one” sings Ray Davies in the Kinks’ song Strangers, and this mostly reflects this movie’s feeling, which is a nutshell, this Buddhist idea of sharing happiness with each other, and reaching that state of the sublime, through whatever is necessary.

The three protagonists, living in their own separate worlds, come to live with each other as they did when they were young, in this whole other world, where their Louis Vuitton luggage signifies nothing, and its meaning is unrecognizable.

Naturally they had been separated for too long for everything to go on in perfect harmony, and so we see these brothers struggle as they try to come at peace with one another and with themselves, through a journey of finding their mother who they find is now a nun living in a convent.

The Darjeeling Limited

Anderson’s main idea of the filming in India, was due to his love for the country, and his love of Satyajit Ray director of such films as The Lonely Wife and The Music Room.

The Indian culture and philosophy of life that makes the aura of the movie is represented in the sequence where the brothers run to reach the Darjeeling, as it will not wait for them, as time will not wait for them, and in doing so to continue their journey, or ‘their lives’, they drop their expensive tailor-made luggage, as if letting go of the superfluous objects of life.

The connection with Hotel Chevalier works through the character Jack (played by Jason Schwartzman) whose troubled love-life, and his obsession with his ex-girlfriend is present throughout the movie, as he finds himself in a duality of emotions, as he regrets going on the journey and at the same time cannot help finding consolation in the Indian girl.


7. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Basing the plot on Roald Dhal children’s novel by the same name, Wes Anderson managed to capture a world, which according to Roald Dahl’s wife had the only authentic Dhal feeling to it. She said her husband had hated all the movie adaptations of his novels, and she believed that were he to have been still alive when the movie was made, he would have certainly loved Wes’ interpretation of one of (what happens to be) his shortest novels.

The story is about this Fox who ends up caught in a trap during one of his heists with his wife, who at that specific moment announces she is pregnant with his baby. He promises her that he’ll stop doing this job if they manage to escape. They do, and Mr. Fox keeps his promise for some years, until one day he decides to buy a tree house, rather than live in a hole, and moves there.

It so happens that some fields across his house, there are three huge farms owned by 3 farmers. This naturally tempts Mr. Fox into getting his burglar mask out again, and with the help of his opossum friend Kyle, they steal some of the farmers’ products.

Being as Dahl describes them “equally mean”, the farmers try different means of getting their revenge leading these tamed animals of the woods, to fetch their wild instincts to resist the siege put upon them by the farmers.

Anderson manages to put his own stylistic element in the movie without disturbing the inspiration to the book’s style, which was Dahl’s hometown; Buckinghamshire. It is surprising that he chose to cast George Clooney as Mr. Fox, and while many people questioned this casting even for the notion of the Fox’s American accent, Wes replied by saying “Who knows what’s the accent of a fox is like?”

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Naturally it is not surprising that we hear the voices of Bill Murray as Badger and Jason Schwartzman as Mr. Fox’s son Ash, and the clever and playful character of the Rat played by Willem Dafoe, who for some reason seems to be the animal version of ‘Jesus’ from The Big Lebowski, especially with that flamenco guitar as his background music.

Speaking of music, this movie like its successor (Moonrise Kingdom), had its score composed by Alexandre Desplat, who really managed to capture the essence of the cunning family man that is Mr Fox and of everyone in that imaginary British countryside.

Even though some questioned the idea of an auteur like Anderson doing a children’s movie, most critics including Roger Ebert, thought it was excellent. Unfortunately the movie was crammed to the side in popularity, mostly by Twilight and the sequel to Alvin and the Chipmunks. Nevertheless, it is still a great movie, and an experiment by Wes, which was undoubtedly successful.


8. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)


The title of the movie truly fits the idea. It is a Kingdom ruled by isolation from the rest of humanity, as Sam in fact shows it on the map. It is very original in its charming way of the development of the plot, which leads towards the elopement of the two protagonists. These two aren’t taking any chances; they want to go for the romantic grail immediately, taking a kit of food and other utensils, which would serve them for less than two weeks.

In a world where youth seems vividly alive and full of hope and love, and adulthood full of disappointment and lack of romance, Anderson deals with the young romantic couple very realistically, especially during the ‘conquering’ of the ‘ancient Indian Kingdom’. It is a symbol of the achievement of love and the achievement of a romantic ideal (in this case ‘romantic’; as in the romantic tradition of early 19th century artists).

wes anderson love

As Bruce Willis says in the Moonrise Kingdom Press Conference, it is a film showing that “everyone needs to be loved, even a cop”. A simple line, but in this story it is a realisation, brought about by the climax of the adventure of these young two lovers, who after all, will be the youngsters of the counterculture generation of love.

Something that really strikes out from Wes’s other movies is that due to his freedom of filming on locations in such an open space, the usual quirky frames are much wider, giving his usual beautiful aesthetic look, a certain unique Kubrickian quality.

This movie is most probably the ideal Anderson movie to start with, for anyone who has never experienced the beauty of his unique style.


9. Castello Cavalcanti (2013)

Castello Cavalcanti

This short movie produced by Prada, has the visual palette and ambience of Fantastic Mr. Fox, but instead of Buckinghamshire, the location is a place called Cavalcanti, somewhere in Italy, although it looks more like a Sicilian village in the late 40’s.

The plot revolves around this race which the locals of Cavalcanti seem to be eager to witness even though it passes in less than 10 seconds, and there’s a feeling that the life of this village reaches its climatic instant at time of the race, as we see all the locals out gathered in this race-themed bistro, awaiting the cars to drive through Cavalcanti.

As the race-car driven by the protagonist, Jed Cavalcanti (played by Jason Schwartzman) arrives in the village, it crashes into a statue in the village square. Jed doesn’t suffer from any injuries, and goes to the bistro to use the phone. In doing so he meets some of the elderly people in the bistro and realizes that the village was his original hometown, before his family moved to America.

Castello Cavalcanti (2013)

There is a sense of simplicity to it, which resonates the neo-realistic movement of the Italian cinema, especially when Jed decides to wait for the succeeding bus, in order to spend some time with these people. His ‘racy’, highly energetic character beautifully complements his background as a car-driver, and is contrasted with the patient, calm character of the locals and the background of their città.

Interestingly enough, this short was filmed in Cinecitta Studios, where Fellini shot three of his movies, and Scorsese shot Gangs of New York (2002). In connection with Fellini, this movie was inspired by a very short scene in one of his films Amarcord (1973), where there is a celebratory race ending in a village, and Anderson has said that he loved the idea, and wishes to explore it further more.


10. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)


“There are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity…” This movie “…was one of them. What more is there to say?” What can one say, about such a beautifully constructed work of art? It is as if trying to express the feelings one feels when looking in the exuberant colors of a Van Gogh painting.

Innovatively, creating his own story through the style and the tone of a Stefan Zweig book (not necessarily novel, for Zweig mainly wrote historical and journalistic books), Anderson managed to capture this world where in the cold freezing ice of the mountains of Budapest, one finds a warmth glowing from his central character’s charisma, and his temple of perfection, the Grand Budapest Hotel.


The story is narrated by a character who represents Zweig himself, and it revolves around this charming relationship of friendship and camaraderie, between Gustave H.; a concierge (played by Ralph Fiennes), and Zero Mustafa; a newly-assigned lobby boy (played by Toni Revolori), and their adventure around the fictional Zubrowka, as Monsieur Gustave tries to escape from an unjust accusation of murder, and tries to fight for what is rightfully his, with the help of Zero.

The characters are brought to life through a never-ending marvelous cast of actors, who have fit in Anderson’s ‘theatre company’ (as he likes to call it) intrinsically. All these characters come in and out of the frame in instants, creating a cartoonish rhythm and feeling around the plot, with mannerisms and facial movements that complement this look.

It is a movie that would be appreciated best if watched twice or more, as there so many things happening that at every viewing, there is something new popping out from every corner on the screen.

Author Bio: Luke Scerri studies English and Communications at the University of Malta. He enjoys listening to Nick Drake albums, reading 20th century Literature, and collecting vinyl records. His favorite directors are Woody Allen, Jean- Luc Godard, Carol Reed, and Stanley Kubrick; who was the sole reason why he developed a love for film.