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Wes Anderson Retrospective: “Hotel Chevalier” Short Film Review

A short, ambiguous film about love and heartbreak, Hotel Chevalier was talked about as one of the most thought-provoking short films of 2007.

Running for a total of around 13 minutes, it tracks the encounter of a Man (Jason Schwartzman) and a Woman (Natalie Portman) as they reconcile in a hotel room in Paris.

I first saw the film in my screenwriting class, when we were studying the narrative structure of short films, and how they manage to tell a story in such a short time frame. For this film, I would say that the interesting part isn’t what the story tells, but rather what the story doesn’t tell.

Not much happens in the film; the Man, seemingly used to living alone in Paris, gets an unexpected phone call from the Woman, who asks what his room number is. He’s reluctant to tell her, but she demands to be seen. She shows up at his door, and there is a very definitive air of awkwardness as she breezes into the room with a bouquet of flowers, giving him a hug, and an (uninvited) tour of the bedroom. The ease in which he surveys his territory suggests that this is a game that the two of them play often; they are extremely comfortable, yet extremely uncomfortable, with each other.

About halfway through the short, she asks him what happened, and he simply replies that he’s been living in the room for about a month. There are hints to a relationship that might have happened, and one that definitely ended badly. There is a sense that a deeper conversation is about to ensue, but it is untimely interrupted by the arrival of room service. The second the room service leaves, the Man and Woman kiss passionately. Before it can progress any further, she asks him if he’s slept with anyone (presumably after they broke up) and he responds that he hasn’t, asking her the same question. She takes her time before replying that no, she hasn’t, and he remarks on the long pause. He also comments on the dark bruises that he sees on her arm; they’re in the shape of fingerprints. He asks about them, and she says they don’t matter.

Now lying on top of him, she says that she doesn’t want to lose his friendship, and that she never meant to hurt him on purpose. He responds that he doesn’t care, and that he will never be her friend. The film closes with them looking out over his “view of Paris,” which is just a view of another hotel building across the street.

There are a lot of questions that aren’t answered in the film, which lends itself to feeling like this is a real story. Trying to avoid all the uncomfortable answers when talking with an ex-significant other is a universal occurrence, one that is portrayed quite accurately in Hotel Chevalier.

The self-sacrificial nature of the Man leads to some questions about what really happened to the relationship that the man and the woman were in. Even the name of the film suggests this, with “chevalier” a play of the word “chivalrous.” There’s a lot of pain in the stoicism of the interaction between the two of them.

There are subtle clues and motifs that run through the film, in particular the song “Where did you go to my lovely?”, which plays as an undercurrent in almost the entire film. Coupled with the idea that he doesn’t seem to care if she hurts him, and the idea that she must have slept with someone else while they were broken up, prompts the idea that the main protagonist is desperately romantic.

For their parts,the actors did a fantastic job. Natalie Portman is, as always, beautiful and stunning as ever in the film, carrying an undercurrent of hatred for the man. The man, on the flipside, is broken, obviously still in love with her, or perhaps what their relationship meant to him. The film is very much stylistically Wes Anderson, with the actors all giving understated performances, instead of the wild and often times exaggerated performances that are popular in today’s films.

The film was, additionally, shot over two days, with a crew of 15 people, on no budget. It’s supremely impressive, and a testament to Anderson that he is able to make such a simplistic story so nuanced and layered.

While I haven’t viewed much of Wes Anderson’s works, I’m looking forward to see what interesting projects he has in store for audiences next.