In ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel,’ Wes Anderson Has His First Non-White Main Character

Credit: Variety
Credit: Variety

I’m on the record as a Wes Anderson devotee, but I’ll be curious to see if the pace of Grand Budapest Hotel is actually as manic as this trailer suggests that it is:

When you think about it, all of Anderson’s movies are period pieces. Even if they aren’t technically set in another era, as Moonrise Kingdom, dated to 1965, is, they’re often about anachronisms. The Life Aquatic evokes a moment when ocean explorers were pop culture icons. The Royal Tenenbaums is full of seventies sweatbands and fur coats, and has some of its climactic moments thanks to a Norman Mailer-like writer. Rushmore’s full of references to Vietnam movies. Fantastic Mr. Fox is based on the Roald Dahl book published in 1970, and has the suits to match, which is often one way Anderson signals that his characters are operating slightly out of synch with our own timeline.


In this particular case, I’m especially curious to see how Anderson handles race in the context of the period he’s invoking. Anderson’s often chosen majority white enclaves in the periods he’s invoked in his movies, be it the private school of Rushmore, the wealthy, cloistered Tenenbaum family, the world of rich oceanic explorers, or a New England island community. In these environments, people of color are often interlopers, like Danny Glover’s earnest suitor in The Royal Tenenbaums. or family retainers, often played by late Kumar Pallana. In India in The Darjeeling Limited, the country’s a setting for three brothers to work out their issues. How the white people at the center of Anderson’s films treat the non-white people in their orbit is often revealing, but it’s not the central subject of Anderson’s films.

In the case of The Grand Budapest Hotel, though, Anderson’s main character is Zero (Tony Revolori), an immigrant and a torture survivor who’s working in an Easter European City at a hotel where the management and most of the clients are white. He’s in a similar position to some of the non-white characters in previous Anderson movies, as a junior employee answerable to the whims of an influential and eccentric white man. But this time, we’re seeing the experiences of someone in his position through his eyes, and Zero’s experiences are central to the story, rather than in the service of someone else’s character development. I’ll be curious to see what Anderson does with it. Race and torture come up as throwaway lines in the trailer, but I hope they’ve got a bit more space in the final, full-length result.