Monday, September 29, 2008

Hotel Chevalier

Hotel Chevalier
Dir. Wes Anderson
13 minutes

Hotel Chevalier is a 13 minute "prologue" to the 2007 film The Darjeeling Limited. First I should probably point out that I haven't actually seen the longer film. Chevalier was released as a free download on iTunes before Darjeeling was released in theaters, presumably to drum up interest in the film as a whole, but since I find Wes Anderson to be kind of hit-or-miss I never got motivated enough to want to see it. So basically, this is my evaluation of the short film as a standalone short film, although you could probably argue that the short is really meant to be viewed in the context of the entire longer film. (Although in that case, is it really a "short film" unto itself?)

Anyway: Hotel Chevalier features Jason Schwartzman as an American living in a hotel in France. He's laying around watching television when he receives a phone call from a woman (Natalie Portman) announcing her arrival at the hotel. She shows up and starts to look around the room. It becomes evident that the couple hasn't spoken in months, and that things did not end well between them. They begin to have sex, but then walk out onto the room's balcony for a moment instead, and the film ends.

Hotel Chevalier works as a star-driven short on two levels. The first is the director, Wes Anderson. Anderson's films are very stylized and immediately recognizable, usually taking place in settings that are hard to characterize as belonging to a certain era. Chevalier is no different. The feel of the French hotel is timeless, and the only clue to the film's setting in terms of time is the presence of an iPod, which nonetheless feels somewhat anachronistic compared to the rest of the set.

The color palette in Hotel Chevalier is totally centered around yellow, which gives the film an interesting look. When Schwartzman changes from his yellow bathrobe into a dark suit, the effect is jarring. He looks out of place and uncomfortable in the room, reflecting the awkwardness in the encounter between he and Portman. The concentration on yellow also creates a nice contrast at the end, when the characters step outside onto their balcony to see the city evening - everything now is dark blue, including Schwartzman's suit, with the only splashes of yellow being lights on distant buildings and Portman's bathrobe.

Obviously, Hotel Chevalier is also star-driven because it features movie stars. Jason Schwartzman is a reasonably well-known actor, and Natalie Portman is an extremely well-known one. The short generated additional interest when it was released because Portman does her first nude scene in it, which she had previously stated she would not do, and of course everyone wants to see a famous person naked. (But sorry boys, you don't actually see anything too risqué.)

Overall I don't know if I'd say Hotel Chevalier really "works" as a standalone. There is no self-contained storyline: both the past and present of the film are left totally open to interpretation. In that sense it is kind of disappointing because there's no emotional payoff for anything that happens. However, I like it because it gives me a chance to enjoy Wes Anderson's unique aesthetic in 13 minutes, rather than sitting through 2 awful hours of The Life Aquatic.

(I couldn't find the entire film online, but about 8 minutes of it can be viewed here.)


Anonymous said...

my cat's breath smells like cat food

Lindsay Z. said...

Hotel Chevalier doesn't really work as a stand-alone piece for me either. I saw the Darjeeling Limited without the short, and I don't think the effect was diminished at all. Some of my friends who really liked the movie were like, "Oh my God, I saw Hotel Chevalier and then IT ALL MADE SENSE." But Darjeeling pretty straightforward, there's really not that much more to "get." To me Hotel Chevalier kind of just seems like an extended advertisement for the feature.

Drew Rosensweig said...

I have to agree with Lindsay, as I saw "Hotel Chevalier" online when "The Darjeeling Limited" came out last fall, but didn't get to see the film until spring of this year. When I did watch it, I remembered only trace amounts of "Hotel Chevalier," but it didn't really affect my understanding of the film. Sure, it makes the Natalie Portman glimpse near the end less random, but it doesn't accentuate the emotional impact either.

I think the best way to look at this film is to see it as consistent with the feature it's tied to, as they both feature countless examples of Anderson's worst dialogue. That exchange between Portman and Schwartzman where she tells him if they fuck, she'll feel awful about it after, to which he replies "I don't care," is cringeworthy.

Cecilia C-W said...

I don't like Hotel Chevalier. I agree with everyone so far that it doesn't work as a stand-alone film OR as a supplement to Darjeeling Limited. Whoever said Hotel Chevalier made everything make sense is wrong: nothing is elaborated on enough to give you a full sense of what happened Nat&Jas, which wouldn't really be necessary, but I think the allusions to their relationship/break-up in the feature didn't need Hotel Chevalier for them to be meaningful. I'm pretty sure I would've been able to deduce this without Hotel Chevalier. Fuck this movie, seriously. I love Wes Anderson (HOW DARE YOU BASH THE LIFE AQUATIC!), but this definitely just seems more like a Wes Anderson aesthetics advertisement.

Steve Erdman said...

I agree with ceceila, this most certainly functions as a visual display of what Wes Anderson does with almost all of his films (also life aquatic kicks ass)