Film Review: “Hotel Chevalier”

With Midterm Reading Period in the past and finals looming in the not-so-distant future, I can imagine that many Lawrentians—myself included—do not always have quite enough time to sit through a feature-length film. Wes Anderson’s “Hotel Chevalier,” coming in at about 13 minutes and readily available on YouTube, can remedy a movie craving without taking a large chunk of time out of a packed schedule.

In this short feature, meant to prologue his longer “Darjeeling Limited,” Anderson remains true to both his signature “dollhouse” style and his recurring theme of graceless love. From the opening shot to the final credits, the film is almost completely made up of shades of golden yellow combined frequently with greys. We can see Anderson’s color choices mirrored in the tone of the characters; they are warm and obviously comfortable with one another, but not too comfortable. Grey tones pop up just as awkwardness begins to suggest itself.

Jason Schwartzman appears in the film’s first moments, clad in a yellow bathrobe, lying atop his yellow bed accented by yellow light and the yellow trim on his hotel room’s walls. When he receives a call from his ex-girlfriend (Natalie Portman) telling him that she’s on her way from the airport, he ditches the golden robe for some more drab attire—a grey suit and black dress shirt—then regains his place atop the bed. Portman shows up—also dressed in grey—and they proceed to clumsily get reacquainted with one another.

Anderson does a fantastic job of conveying the difficulties of getting back together—even if just for a short time—with somebody you once intimately knew. In the two characters’ conversations there is a lingering air of concurrently wanting to become intimate once more and wanting to maintain both emotional and physical distance. Portman’s character asks Schwartzman’s, “How long are you gonna stay [in this hotel]?” to which he replies, “How long are you gonna stay?” at which point she reveals that she only intends on staying with him for a single night. She asks him, “Are you running away from me?” He responds, “I thought I already did.”

It is clear that the two are trying to put space between each other, yet there is just as clearly some sort of magnetism that draws them back together. Portman’s character is open about her persisting feelings for her former lover, telling him that she wants to be his friend no matter what happens, and that she still loves him and never meant to hurt him, to which he responds, “I will never be your friend, no matter what, ever,” and “I don’t care,” respectively. Yet he remembers and acknowledges her quirks, showing her that he, in some way, does still care by handing her a toothpick—she has a habit of absentmindedly picking her teeth, as we see earlier in the film—out of his pocket. They are at once familiar and unfamiliar with each other– an on-screen representation of both the impossibility of complete separation after intimacy and the inability of a previously intimate pair to pick up where they left off.

Although “Hotel Chevalier” is short, it is charged with familiar emotion—whether awkward or tender—reflected by Anderson’s colorful, ever-tantalizing visuals. It is fulfilling as a stand-alone feature in spite of its purpose in preceding “The Darjeeling Limited,” and I would recommend it to any busy student in need of a break, regardless of familiarity with its director or his films.

 

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