Hotel Chevalier (2007)
To paraphrase William Faulkner, novelists are failed short story writers, and short story writers are failed poets. One of the most difficult challenges in any artistic medium is trying to convey everything you want to with a limited amount of sounds, words or images, which is why short films are such a difficult form of storytelling. The filmmaker has to get across an array of ideas and characters in such a short timeframe, and more importantly, it has to be entertaining.
Which leads to Hotel Chevalier. After a mild career slump of sorts in the mid-2000s, Wes Anderson has become more popular and acclaimed now than he has ever been. Designed as a companion piece to accompany his fifth film, The Darjeeling Limited, Anderson uses this 13-minute film to explore an unseen relationship that’s referenced to many times in Darjeeling (one of the characters even makes a brief cameo of sorts). Now, you’d think that watching Hotel Chevalier before Darjeeling would make you appreciate both films more, but what makes this short film so special it can not only stand on its own, I think it’s better by itself.
Like Darjeeling, the story is deceptively simple, and many events and incidents are referred to but never shown. Jack Whitman (Jason Schwartzman) is in a Paris hotel room. A woman (Natalie Portman) calls the room and tells him she will visit soon. Moments later, they are together in the room. They kiss, she undresses and they embrace. The last shot of the film is of them, together, walking to the hotel room’s balcony, taking in the view and then stepping back inside.
Hotel Chevalier is subtlety and minimalism personified. Their brief conversation reveals many things – that Jack has been living in the room for some time, that one of them is submissive and the other is dominating and that their present lives are horribly misguided and despondent. When the unnamed woman is atop Jack, bruises on her back are casually shown. Jack questions them, but they’re never shown again. One of the last lines of dialogue is Jack promising his ex, “I promise I will never be your friend,” a line that is already ironic on its own; after viewing The Darjeeling Limited, it’s a line that also becomes deeply sad.
Everything Anderson touches bears his signature aesthetic – primary colours dominate, the camera glides and moves with incredible control and the soundtrack is catchy and emotive. The same song is played throughout the film – Peter Sarstedt’s “Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?”– that compliments both the female character and the reconstructed Parisian landscape. By the film’s conclusion, we know everything and nothing at the same time, and Hotel Chevalier is so memorable precisely because of that.
Watch Hotel Chevalier