Dinner and a Show: Grand Gestures of Food Sharing
by Jennifer Na
Wes Anderson uses eccentric cinematography in The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) to create an enthralling story and visual feast. This movie’s narration is told in episodes, each act nesting like a doll within the greater plot. An unnamed author narrates the inspiration of his book about the famed hotel in the film’s present, 1985. The movie flashes back to 1968 in Zubrowka, an imaginary Eastern European nation where the author encounters Zero Moustafa during his stay at the hotel. The mysterious proprietor invites him to dinner to tell the story of how he acquired the hotel. Zero, now an old man tells his adventures with Monsieur Gustave, the former concierge who becomes entangled in the murder investigation of Madame D, a wealthy frequenter of the Grand Budapest Hotel. Though the genre of this movie is not explicitly a “food film,” food plays a larger role than just enhancing the meticulously designed scenes. Food is used as a device to develop characters and forge instrumental relationships.
The majority of the storytelling occurs over an elaborate dinner at the Grand Budapest hotel with dishes like “ducks roasted with olives” in a largely deserted imperial dining room. The 1960s dining room scenes are warmly saturated in yellow and orange hues, with their table illuminated in a soft spotlight at the front of the dining area in the shallow focused shot (Figure 1). As Zero narrates, the warm saturation reveals his fondness for Gustave and nostalgia for his youth. Notably, by the end of the story and dinner the other diners in the background are absent, indicative of the time that passes during Zero’s storytelling.
The whimsical scenarios that transpire in the film are established through elements of mise-en-scène. Great detail is put in Agatha’s scenes, tirelessly baking with flour coating her face and countless pastries surrounding her, indicating her devoted work ethic. The servants’ narrow dining hall serves as a contrast to M. Gustave’s ostentatious sermons that are drowned out by the clattering of dishes, as soup is frantically devoured. M. Gustave insists on maintaining his luxurious lifestyle despite his undesirable circumstances, demanding expensive drink and cologne to signify his status and propensity to extravagance. These additions demonstrate M. Gustave’s dignity and tenacity through his refusal to conform to his misfortune.
As the time period shifts to the 1930s, the saturation intensifies with red tones and harsher lighting and then changes to cooler blue tones when M. Gustave is in prison, indicating the plot tensions. Food moments initially appear to be for comedic effect, such as the hardened prisoners softening as they devour Mendl’s courtesan au chocolate, because it largely appears at the periphery of the plot. Food holds a powerful role as a communication tool to build relationships, however, acting as a conduit for plot progression. Gustave builds important allies for himself by sharing courtesan au chocolat with fellow inmates who help him escape prison (Figure 2). Although Mendl’s iconic pink box with blue ribbons and tricolored courtesan au chocolat clash against the largely monochromatic prison, the pastries’ exquisite exteriors ironically enable tools to be smuggled since they are left undisturbed by prison guards out of aesthetic appreciation.
Wes Anderson’s cinematic idiosyncrasies highlight the burgeoning relationships that form through food sharing and elevate the distinctive personalities of the characters, such as the elusive and ostentatious Monsieur Gustave. Innovative editing and cinematography renders a captivating and engaging film that reveals a charming story through whimsy and wonder. From fine pastries to prison “mush,” food is a powerful communication tool that emphasizes the characters and their unlikely adventures through their affiliation with the Grand Budapest Hotel.