It’s been a while since I saw any Wes Anderson movie and I knew that this was going to be good. The number of things that I enjoyed in this movie exceeded all my expectations. The plot, the acting – it’s just a modest beginning. The cinematography aspect of this film is especially extraordinary and unique and in this post I would like to focus on this part the most.
The first thing I noticed when watching the movie was the aspect ratio change. For the scenes taking place in the 1980s the aspect ratio is 1.85:1 and this is how the movie begins. Then we move back in time to the 1960s and the aspect ratio changes to 2.40:1. The central story that took place in the 1930s is shown in 1.3:1 ratio. Each period of time is presented using the ratio that could have been used in a movie at the time.
Below you can see the frames from different parts of the movie:
The green border around each frame represents the 1.85:1 ratio. Each frame size enforces different framing choices, but we are going to look at that later.
The two timeframes presented in the movie, the 60’s, and the 30’s are lit differently and the production design choices differ as well. For the 30’s, we have more reds/pinks color cast in the over image and a bit harsher light. For the 60’s part, the image looks warmer and tinted towards yellows and oranges. Have a look at the 2 frames below:
As usual, I loaded a few frames from the movie into DaVinci Resolve and had a look at the scopes. I also played with the wheels to balance the picture a bit to see what was done to achieve this specific look. You can see my modifications below:
Right off the bat we can see a huge amount of reds added to the picture. Saturation is also lifted above the average amount. In the last picture, we can see that the red walls are almost oversaturated. Coupled with a production design choices we can see a very distinctive and stylized overall look.
The framing throughout the movie is consistent and very unique to Wes Anderson. We can see a lot of symmetrical compositions and shots that are constructed to reflect the perspective of a specific character in a film. Lots of straight-on views and quite a heavy usage of wide angle lens.
Shooting in 1.3:1 ratio was a completely new challenge for the director and for the DP, Robert Yeoman, who notes:
We looked at those more to familiarize ourselves with the 1.37:1 aspect ratio, which Wes wanted to use for the 1930s sequences. This aspect ratio opens up some interesting compositional possibilities; we often gave people a lot more headroom than is customary. A two-shot tends to be a little wider than the same shot in anamorphic. It was a format I’d never used before on a movie, and it was a fun departure. You can get accustomed to 1.85 or 2.40 to the point that the shots become more predictable.
In the below frames we can see some interesting composition choices that would not be possible with wider aspect ratios:
In order to show a bigger number of people in the frame Wes usually groups them into layers. He also uses extra vertical space to utilize it in a creative way. The most interesting shot was the one when Edward Norton enters the frame through the hole in the floor when he discovers that prisoners are gone. The 4:3 frame and a low angle shot allow the director to show the soldiers standing behind him.
Another interesting group of shots is the low and high angle shots captured with wide angle lens. They create a very specific point of view and are repeated many times throughout the movie:
In many shots the high or low camera placement allows to fill the 4:3 frame more naturally instead of keeping the headroom on top of the characters.
The last interesting visual component of the movie is the frame in a frame kind of shots. This one specifically works really nice in this particular aspect ratio creating natural frames that are aligned with the frame nicely.
What Wes Anderson presents in his movie is certainly a severe style and a very distinctive look. Looking at the movies from the past when 4:3 ratio was commonly used most of the shots were done using the 3/4 angle rules and almost no straight-on views.
Camera movement is another trademark of Wes Anderson style and in Grand Budapest Hotel we can see the whole range of his key elements in this department. The most distinctive ones are:
- whip pans – one of the most distinctive camera moves known from Anderson films. Most of the time it is used to change the view from one character to another. In Grand Budapest Hotel we can even see 180 degree pan between 2 characters on the opposite ends.
- zooms – in critical moments we can see some extreme zooms to bring the audience right into action.
- sideway dollies – oftentimes the character on screen is followed by the camera sideways.
- tilts – coupled with wide angle lens it creates an extreme change in perspective.
- panning during dialogs – Wes uses panning throughout dialogs scenes, end when he cuts, he usually uses straight-on and POV shots.
Behind the scenes
From the behind the scenes clip (attached below) we can see how the set was constructed and what kind of light was used.
In the first picture, we can see that the big space was lit using very large sources attached to the ceiling. In the second and third picture, there is some sort of Chinese lamp on the stick placed quite close to the characters. This allows to light faces with a very nice and soft light.
There is also a huge amount of practicals that we can see in the frame. Wes usually stands next to the camera with a monitor. In the BTS video, we can see that he also sits next to the DP on the dolly during tracking shots.
In the 3rd picture below we can see how Mr. Gustave acts during the POV shot looking straight into the camera.
What’s most impressive about The Grand Budapest Hotel is the fact that Wes Anderson created the whole world in and out. Everything that we see on screen is his creation. Starting with the newspapers, currency, bus lines and all the way to the pastry box designs.
Some elements are barely seen in the movie, but the amount of details that the director created is overwhelming. We can freeze the frame, zoom in and read the article in the made-up newspaper.
Interesting fact – Żubrówka, the fictional country name from the film is actually a brand name of Polish vodka.