Stefan Zweig: The author who inspired Wes Anderson’s masterpiece, ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’

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The cinematic canon of Wes Anderson couldn’t be described as one of unparalleled consistency, but he is undoubtedly a unique and highly influential cinematic force. Notably, he infuses each of his pictures with a distinctive lens of pastel colour, symmetry, tracking shots, whip-pans and comedy. This formula has stumbled upon many a success, but few more resounding than the 2014 tour de force, The Grand Budapest Hotel.

This ludicrously star-studded affair sees Ralph Fiennes, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, and Owen Wilson hit the screen for a refreshing comedy drama. Set against the backdrop of a fascist regime, the movie follows the story of an illegal refugee migrant named Zero Moustafa, portrayed by Tony Revolori, who finds work at the mysterious hotel as a lobby boy and, after a strange sequence of events, inherits the entire business.

The movie begins with a woman visiting a shrine dedicated to an anonymous author who wrote a book named The Grand Budapest Hotel. In a self-referential manner, the book, written in 1985, tells the story of the author’s 1968 trip to the grand hotel in the fictitious Republic of Zubrowka. Here, he meets Zero, who unravels his curious tale of exile and, ultimately, business monopoly.

As an auteur, Anderson usually assumes control of his screenplays. When writing The Grand Budapest Hotel, he was singularly inspired by the story of the Austrian author Stefan Zweig. Anderson’s first exposure to the author was through his 1939 historical fiction novel Beware of Pity. “I loved this first book,” Anderson told the Daily Telegraph in 2014. “I also read The Post Office Girl.”

Continuing, the American director revealed that The Grand Budapest Hotel serves as the ultimate shrine to Zweig and his literary contributions. “The Grand Budapest Hotel has elements that were sort of stolen from both these books,” Anderson noted. Zweig is known for creating stories within stories, an idea Anderson employed when writing the screenplay.

While the story contains strains of DNA from Beware of Pity and The Post Office Girl, sketches of Zweig himself appear among the characters. “Two characters in our story are vaguely meant to represent Zweig himself: our [anonymous] ‘Author’ character, played by Tom Wilkinson, and the theoretically fictionalised version of himself, played by Jude Law.” However, the most tangible of all the illustrations of Zweig’s personality is M. Gustave, the hotel concierge portrayed by Fiennes.

Above all else, Anderson was inspired by the mysteries that unfold in Zweig’s books and even in his true life story. “My experience of reading [Zweig’s memoir] The World of Yesterday was full of the sense of surprising realities being disclosed,” Anderson said. There were so many descriptions of parts of life, which – as much as we may have read or seen something of them in movies – we didn’t really know about.”

Zweig was born to a Viennese Jewish family in 1881, tragically bearing the cross of early 20th-century conflict. As a staunch pacifist, he refused to serve during World War I, opting for a career in writing. Between World Wars, he became a world-revered novelist but was forced to flee to the US and later Brazil as the Nazi Party took control of Europe in the late 1930s. Tragically, he and his wife, Elizabeth, committed suicide on February 23rd, 1942, ostensibly seeing no light at the end of the tunnel imposed by the Nazi regime.

Although he came to a tragic demise, Zweig lives on in a vast portfolio of novellas, biographies and historical studies. Today, his work is highly regarded in literary circles but perhaps lacks the widespread acclaim it’s due. In creating his 2014 masterpiece, Anderson hoped to honour Zweig’s legacy to a wider audience and a new generation of readers.

Watch the official trailer for Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel below.

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