12 November 2007

Hotel Chevalier (Short Film)

Full Credits from IMDb

Written & Directed by: Wes Anderson

Grade: A-

If Hotel Chevalier were nothing but just some short film, it couldn't help but feel incurably slight; if I could only use two words to describe it, they would be "wide" and "yellow". (If there was a word for Peter Sarstedt's "Where Do You Go to (My Lovely)" I'd make that three words, as that song plays nearly non-stop throughout the film.) But it's not meant to stand entirely on its own, and from its attachment to The Darjeeling Limited (it's called that film's "Part One") it musters some heft, ultimately overcoming the fact that ostensibly it feels like it was made as an acting exercise or as a sneaky excuse to get Natalie Portman naked. In the end, it really isn't slight so much as it's subtle and stinging.

In fact, Hotel Chevalier is a pitch-perfect prologue to Darjeeling. The short marks a genuine departure for director Anderson that Darjeeling only hopelessly hinted at; while the visual aesthetic is unmistakable, mostly vanished is his characteristic whimsy and his comedic self-defense mechanism; Hotel Chevalier is naked autoconfrontation, both serious and sad, just short of crossing the line into self-indulgence. The credit for its success belongs to Jason Schwartzman and Portman and their stellar performances; the script is sparing and the dialogue largely unrevealing (though it has its share of great lines: "I promise, I will never be your friend" among them), with all the backstory filled in by gestures between the leads, who obviously spent a lot of time with Anderson developing the characters' histories. The result is a film that needs nothing spoken and yet is still silently and painfully sad. When Portman arrives at Schwartzman's hotel and he jerks away from a kiss, it speaks volumes more than a subsequent exchange:

"Are you running away from me?" Portman asks of Schwartzman's holing up in the French hotel.

"I thought I already did," he answers.


The short can be downloaded for free on iTunes, seen in theaters before The Darjeeling Limited (and presumably on the coming DVD) or you can watch a clip here, though beware it's terribly cropped. (The original is noticeably wider at 2.35:1.)

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