Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is now in theaters across the country.
A South by Southwest audience got a sneak peek last week. The highly-stylized filmmaker himself even made a trip to Austin for the screening and an extended Q&A. That's something SXSW Film Head Janet Pierson said she'd been trying to make happen for about a decade.
Though many an Austin filmmaker has touted the benefits of working in Central Texas, Anderson, a University of Texas at Austin graduate himself, seems to find it easy to resist the city's charms.
"It’s been so long since I was in Austin," Anderson said. "I went around the UT campus, all these places I hadn’t seen in so long; and then I went to this place I used to live at – it was very strange. This city’s changed a lot."
At the SXSW screening, Anderson recalled screening his first feature film at UT's Hogg Memorial Auditorium. Anderson joked that the film crew outnumbered the audience for the "Bottle Rocket" screening. Still, he later admitted that time at the film screening was the most confident he'd ever felt in his life.
But Austin isn't being slighted for the likes of Hollywood or New York. Anderson says that until a few weeks ago, he "hadn't set foot in America in more than two-and-a-half years."
"I went to Europe for the 'Moonrise Kingdom' premiere at Cannes and I never came back," Anderson said. "In Cannes we were having meetings with the German film boards and then after Cannes I went to Germany and traveled around."
And while he was in Europe, Anderson set about making a very European film: "The Grand Budapest Hotel."
At times the film seems slightly darker, or at least a bit more risque, than Anderson's previous work. As the previews suggest, there's a level of crime and punishment at the center of it all.
"It’s got some action scenes, unlike anything I’ve done before," Anderson said. "'Bottle Rocket' had a couple of robberies. There was a shootout in 'Life Aquatic.' There’s a big shootout in this one."
Among the relatively large body count at the end of the film is [spoiler alert!] a four-legged friend. But Anderson's never been afraid to kill off a beloved pet.
"I’ve had a few dogs get killed, run over by a car, get hit by an arrow," Anderson said. “There are a lot of actors who want a good death scene. It would be unfair to the animal to take that away from him."
But none of this is to say "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is in any way short on laughs. Particularly evident is a screwball comedy influence.
At the center of the film, and many of the laughs, is M. Gustave played by Ralph Fiennes. Anderson modeled M. Gustave after a friend who, according to Anderson, answers questions about his sexuality with something like: "I've had a little bit of each and not enough of either."
Fiennes shares the screen with more than a dozen actors who've become something equivalent to "Anderson's Players."
Bill Murray, who has been in all but the first of Anderson's feature films, shows up at just the right time. Tilda Swinton is almost unrecognizable as one of M. Gustave's elderly conquests and Jason Schwartzman, who joined Anderson at the SXSW Q&A, plays a memorable minor role.
Anderson admits scheduling all these actors can be somewhat of a puzzle.
"'The Royal Tenenbaums' was bit tricky like that," Anderson said. "We were having trouble; one actor whose part is done almost entirely without the other actors, but they have a tiny overlap and yet they’re working weeks apart from each other. How are we going to sort this out?"
For his latest film, Anderson says some people were filmed quickly because few other actors were needed for scenes. But Anderson says actor Harvey Keitel, who plays a prison gang leader in the film, actually spent more time than required with the crew.
"Harvey wanted to come early because he wanted to live in the prison with his other inmates before doing his scenes," Anderson said. "If somebody wants to go live in a prison to get into character, that’s amazing."
Anderson incorporates new film and effects tricks learned in the production of "Fantastic Mr. Fox" into "The Grand Budapest Hotel." And his attention to detail is obvious in everything down to the changing aspect ratios to denote different time periods. "By the time we had a plan to show the film publicly we’d had a lot of time to do a lot of polishing," Anderson said. "It didn’t have to be ready by such and such a date. We were enough under budget to where we could still tinker with things. Lots of little bits of icing."
For Wes Anderson fans, as Jason Schwartzman put it, the film feels like a "nutritious hit."