On the Night Train with Wes Anderson

The director opens a new take on old Europe in The Grand Budapest Hotel

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"I don't think I would think of actively staying away from one thing or another," he says. "I can't say that I have some new analysis of totalitarianism. I don't want to stay away from anything or steer away from anything or avoid anything. I just want to make my story. What we know and the politics and meanings of all this stuff, it ought to be in there."

Well Suited

A mystique can spring up around a filmmaker with a unique aesthetic, the idea that he or she is personally responsible for every second of every shot. But what reads to audiences as the individual will of the auteur is, Anderson is quick to acknowledge, largely the result of the auteur's skill at choosing a team. "It's a collaboration," he says. "[Costume designer] Milena Canonero and [composer] Alexandre Desplat and these actors and all these voices ... You cannot end up with the same thing if you change those names and keep mine." Successful working relationships are how the sausage gets made, even when the sausage is a perfectly cooked, regionally appropriate, vintage-looking bratwurst.

That cooperation is part of the reason his merry crew keeps coming back. This is a man who admits he would time actors walking down a hallway and then ask them to do it again until they shaved off 15 seconds, a man who doesn't shoot much coverage because he already knows which angles he'll use, but his precision is a gentle one. Wilson, a longtime friend and collaborator, compares him to a ship's captain rather than a solo sailor. "Sometimes you work on a movie and you're not quite sure. You sense some anxiety in the director, that they're not sure exactly what they want," Wilson says. "But with Wes, you know he's definitely steering the ship and doing exactly what he thinks is best for the movie."

You can see it in the pastry boxes that show up throughout Grand Budapest. It's hard to see the ribbon-trussed cubes as anything other than another confection, something from Anderson's fertile imagination. But they're also a practical solution to a directorial problem. Anderson wanted a box that could go from closed to flat in one motion, having learned that showing characters opening regular boxes is a waste of film. Roman Coppola, a frequent colleague with a good eye for mechanics, stepped in to create just such a box. When the ribbon is undone, all four sides of the box fall away like the petals of a flower.

Anderson doesn't mind fans' analyzing and categorizing his work--he did the same with favorite directors when he was a young film buff--but he doesn't think his aesthetic can be attributed to hard-and-fast rules; he just likes what he likes. "In a funny way, I still don't really know what a Wes Anderson movie looks like," says Grand Budapest's production designer, Adam Stockhausen. "It really is from scratch each time. There are no magic decoder rings. It's not a formula."

The openness partly explains how Anderson is still surprised when he sees dailies, a feeling he first encountered two decades ago. "I thought, O.K., so that's what this is like," he recalls of working on Bottle Rocket. "It was a good feeling."

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