“There are still faint glimmers of civilisation left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity.” So says M Gustav in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. Released in 2014, the film is famous for its chipper, absurdist dialogue. Characters in a world on the edge of a devastating war frolic about in search of a painting, whilst displaying a disturbing level of denial surrounding the actuality of their impending doom. On the surface, the film is whimsical and fun, but underlying this is a story of a bewildering sense of restlessness and the devastating lack of control we have over the tragedies that occur in life, and history.
Yet, The Grand Budapest Hotel is also known for its vivacious, vibrant and camp costume design under the direction of Milena Canonero. Canonero has collaborated with Wes Anderson on two other films (The Darjeeling Limited and The Life Aquatic), as well as presiding over the costume design for iconic films such as Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.
Canonero’s role in the production of the film won her an Oscar, and it is easy to see why. Perhaps most recognisable in The Grand Budapest Hotel is the harsh contrast in Wes Anderson’s candy coloured backdrop and the costumes the characters wear. Anderson’s film’s, past and future ones, usually reflect the world through the lens of outsiders, or self-identified oddballs. They are usually people who don’t fit in with society, who can reflect a more honest account of it. Wes Anderson’s choice of colours and aesthetics when it comes to costume and general design is often sympathetic to these characters. In The Grand Budapest Hotel, the exterior set, designed by Adam Stockhausen and Anna Pinnock, swims in candy floss pink. Everything about the world around the characters is uncomfortably detracted from reality, oversaturated and overly sweet, and yet the characters wear bold, distinctive, almost garish colours. Main characters M Gustav, and Zero wear a deep purple, perfectly tailored, cotton uniform. Even the prison outfit M Gustav wears in his short stint in prison is well-tailored to him, as if to reflect that no matter their toils, the way people present themselves can still be a form of dignity.
The boldness of colours in Anderson’s films seems to reflect not the physical, but the inner person. They stand out, literally, against the pastel backdrops of their reality. Characters, through clever costuming, are seen to be important visually, no matter how unimportant they feel in their own story.