Pop Culture

Obscure writer helps Wes Anderson check into 'Grand Budapest Hotel'

Director Wes Anderson has worked out his whimsical, heartfelt adventures on the sea, amid the mess of a brilliant family, and on a New England island. But the "Moonrise Kingdom" director turned to new sources of inspiration for his latest film, "The Grand Budapest Hotel," which tells the story of a grandiose hotel concierge (Ralph Fiennes) and his lobby boy (Tony Revolori). Drawing from literature, travels through Europe, and a cache of photographs from before the onset of World War I, Anderson has crafted an elaborate new escapade that critics say may be the 44-year-old auteur’s best film to date.

While the film bears the usual Anderson trademarks — quirky dialogue, exquisitely crafted visuals, and familiar faces including Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Bob Balaban — "Hotel" is set in the fictional country of Zubrowka, which is on the cusp of being overrun in what Anderson describes as sort of an mix of WWI and WWII.

“I’ve never done a movie that had a historical context,” Anderson said during a recent appearance at the New York Public Library. 

It also has a historical inspiration — the somewhat obscure but once very popular European author Stefan Zweig, who Anderson discovered after stumbling upon his only full-length novel, “Beware of Pity,” in a Paris bookshop. Zweig, who palled around with the likes of Richard Strauss and Sigmund Freud in the years before the war, was during his lifetime one of the most-read authors in the world.

“Zweig has a way of telling a story that is almost like a Kipling or a Conrad. They’re told as tales,” Anderson said. “Bits of his personality have found their way into this story.”

The director also dug into a collection of photochroms, a kind of vintage postcard, in the online archives of the Library of Congress, scouring thousands of images of a Europe gone by. The souvenir images of castles, landscapes, and monuments informed the film’s sense of nostalgia, as Fiennes' concierge watches the rarefied world he loved slip into the chaos of war.

“It’s really like Google Earth of 1905,” Anderson said. “We found our movie on this website.”

"The Grand Budapest Hotel" opened in New York and Los Angeles theaters on March 7, and in more cities on March 14.