Recap: Live from the New York Public Library with Wes Anderson

by Linda Sheridan

Wes Anderson’s distinctive, storybook film aesthetic has charmed movie audiences for nearly 20 years now. His eighth film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, comes out March 7 and promises to satisfy Anderson fans once more.

The dramedy features the usual suspects in the supporting roles-Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum. New to the cast of characters is Ralph Fiennes, in the lead role of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at the now dilapidated Grand Budapest Hotel. He mentors Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), a lobby boy who becomes his close friend. The Texas-born Anderson recently returned to the New York Public Library to speak with moderator Paul Holdengräber about his upcoming film, as part of the Live from the NYPL series.

Wes Anderson speaks with moderator Paul Holdengräber at LIVE at the NYPL on Feb. 27. Sarah Stacke/The New York Public Library

Wes Anderson speaks with moderator Paul Holdengräber at LIVE at the NYPL on Feb. 27.
Sarah Stacke/The New York Public Library

The film is inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig, an Austrian novelist, playwright and biographer whose work piqued during the 1920s and 1930s. While it is set in the fictitious “Republic of Zubrowka” and the timeline is described on IMDb as “between the wars,” it is the closest that Anderson has come to making a period piece.

“I’ve never done a film in an historical context,” Anderson notes. Frequent collaborator Alexandre Desplat has created an original score, incorporating orchestral elements with keyboard instruments, a departure from the carefully curated folk/rock soundtracks of past films. “It’s rare for me,” Anderson says. “Desplat is a wonderful French composer. There are sounds we’ve not heard before.”


The Grand Budapest Hotel will be released March 7.

NYPL’s moderator Holdengräber was particularly taken with the film, as his parents were born in Vienna, and said that Zweig was a household name.

“I fell in love with his voice,” Anderson says. “He told tales, but the subject matter was very psychological, there was lots of secrecy.” While Anderson assured the audience that it’s a comedy, he admitted there are some more somber elements to the film, a “looming tragedy.”

Holdengräber asked Anderson to share some of his influences.

“I remember renting Truffaut’s 400 Blows, in the little video rental section of the record store, when I was 16. It’s one of the reasons that inspired me to make movies. It’s emotional, alive, people were dazzled by it. It was the beginning of New Wave [cinema]–it was a powerful moment. Truffaut did adaptations of books. I also share an affection for books. I learned just as much about film by reading books. I read Pauline Kael in The New Yorker, in high school.”

Anderson spoke a bit about growing up. “When I was a child, I wanted to be an architect, my dad got me a drafting table. After that, I wanted to be a writer. [The end result is a ] bit of a combination, the visual and the words. Maybe I kept some of that aspiration.” When asked about his narrative style, Anderson says, “Films need shaping. The breaths in a movie are just crucial.”

During the filming of movie, Anderson and crew immersed themselves, living for a time in Görlitz, Saxony in Germany. “In the film, there’s different kind of crafts people-painters, embroiderers, graffiti artists. I enjoyed having these contributors.”

Getting to work with Ralph Fiennes was a long wish fulfilled for Anderson. “I’d been wanting to work with Fiennes for years. I had an image of him as a Shakespeare actor, but he’s much more a Method actor, does what it takes to get the character. He owns it. That’s quite exciting for a director.”

Fiennes’s character is ultimately more connected to Zweig the person, rather than his writing, Anderson says. “It is about cherishing a culture that is evaporating.”

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