Wes Anderson has enjoyed the greatest commercial and critical success of his career so far with 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, but it’s not the first time he’s ventured behind the doors of a luxury lodging.
Accompanying 2007’s The Darjeeling Limited, Hotel Chevalier works as a 13-minute prologue, joining Jack Whitman (Jason Schwartzman) in the eponymous Parisian hotel. He lounges on his bed, resplendent in a lurid yellow robe matching Anderson’s typically meticulous colour scheme and struggles to order a grilled cheese sandwich in French. Then the phone rings. A teasing, mysterious female voice crawls out of the handset as Jack listens, his face taut with what looks like fear.
30 minutes later he’s dressed and as a knock raps the door, he clicks on the song that will echo poignantly through the rest of the short: Peter Sarstedt’s Where Do You Go To (My Lovely).
He opens the door to reveal his girlfriend, played by Natalie Portman, who he has split up with by the time of The Darjeeling Limited. They talk warily and hug awkwardly and she wanders around his room examining a typically Andersonian collection of curios and trinkets as his tracking camera follows her.
As they talk and we learn why he’s here and what he’s running away from, room service arrives. Jack signs for it and as soon as the door closes the song ends and they’re upon each other, kissing passionately. Of course, with Anderson, neither love nor sex is ever that simple and as they undress, she asks him:
“Have you slept with anyone?”
“No. Have you?”
(Long pause) “No.”
“That was a long pause.”
What follows is one of the most brutally honest conversations in Anderson’s oeuvre, particularly from Schwartzman who’s always had a knack of playing total arseholes on screen and managing to make them likeable.
It’s a fierce portrait of destructive love that expands beautifully upon Jack’s romantic past, only hinted at in The Darjeeling Limited. This is a woman that in many ways he clearly can’t stand. He is anxious, stand-offish and really not that happy to see her. In fact if you had to define their relationship with one word it would be hate, not love.
Yet by the time of the main film, Jack is clearly still besotted with her. He plans to meet her on two separate occasions before finally resisting her allure at the end of the film. What is it that makes us repeat things we know are no good for us? In this case, it’s probably the fact that Jack’s ex-girlfriend looks like Natalie Portman.
But really, the temptation in this volatile hook-up is a matter of control. Inserted into The Darjeeling Limited’s chronology we see that Jack begins living in Hotel Chevalier after fleeing his father’s funeral, an act of fear and helplessness. When his girlfriend arrives, Jack finds the opportunity to regain some control, however brief, over a relationship that has been torturous for him. Portman may arrive at his door almost unannounced, but it is he who makes his feelings known with uncaring force and still gets exactly what he wants.
Bittersweet, beautifully shot and soundtracked by a charming earworm of a song, Hotel Chevalier is a great companion piece to The Darjeeling Limited and a gem of a short film in its own right.
You can see it in full below, although note that the video comes with a content warning, suggesting it’s not appropriate for all viewers…
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