On the eve of the release of Wes Anderson’s rather wonderful The Grand Budapest Hotel, a new video draws attention to the US filmmaker’s obsession (some of us might say “fetish” – see my earlier blog post on the topic) for symmetrically framed images, where all the elements are held in perfect balance around the centre of the frame.
This compositional technique has been used sparingly by 99.9 percent of filmmakers for a reason – not only can it be monotonous, it makes the events on screen look so obviously staged that it tends to rupture the audience’s suspension of belief.
Until Anderson came along, the UK’s Peter Greenaway (A Zed and Two Noughts, et al) was the technique’s main exponent, largely because he wanted to smash all notions of realism. Stanley Kubrick also used it, but was much more sparing than this misleading Vimeo clip makes it look – he always mixed it up with other, more conventionally decentred framings to make an expressive point.
For this writer, Anderson’s last film, Moonrise Kingdom, was symmetrically framed to the point of indigestibility, but Grand Budapest has converted me – and for good reason. Moonrise’s boy scouts tale was set largely outdoors – but symmetry applied to the sprawling complexity of nature looks weirdly out of place.
However, as its title suggests, Grand Budapest is set in and around buildings. Symmetry has long been a foundation of architecture, so in this context Anderson’s aesthetic makes total sense, creating a dolls house world, where fantasy and hyperstylised imagery are joined together in perfect harmony.