Hotel Chevalier

Hotel Chevalier:

Hotel Chevalier is a short film by director Wes Anderson, released in 2007. Starring Jason Schwartzman and Natalie Portman as former lovers who reunite in a Paris hotel room, the 13-minute film acts as a prologue to Anderson's 2007 feature The Darjeeling Limited. Shot on location in a Parisian hotel by a small crew, the film was self-financed by Anderson, who initially intended it to be a stand-alone work. It was first shown at the Venice Film Festival première of the feature film on September 2, 2007, and made its own debut later that month at Apple Stores in four American cities.

The day after its première, it was made available for free from the iTunes Store for one month, during which it was downloaded more than 500,000 times. Hotel Chevalier became one of the most-discussed short films of the year, with much popular attention drawn in particular by Portman's extended nude scene. The film garnered near-universal critical acclaim, with reviewers praising its richness, poignancy and careful construction, and comparing it favorably with The Darjeeling Limited.

The film opens on a hotel lobby, where the concierge answers a ringing phone from one of the rooms. Cut to a man (Jason Schwartzman) who is lying on a hotel bed in a yellow bathrobe, watching Stalag 17 and reading the newspaper. After ordering room service from the concierge in broken French, he receives a call from a woman whose voice he recognizes. She tells him she is on her way from the airport and asks for his room number. Despite objecting that he did not tell her she could come, the man consents nevertheless. He then hurriedly attempts to tidy the room, pausing to play the opening bars of the song "Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?" on his stereo system, and runs a bath.

When the film cuts to the next scene, the man is again lying on the bed, but has changed out of the bathrobe into a grey suit. Hearing a knock, he starts the song playing again before opening the door to a woman (Natalie Portman). After staring at him for several seconds, the woman breaks the silence by asking what music is playing. Receiving no response, she steps into the room and presents the man with a bouquet of flowers. When she moves to kiss him on the mouth, he turns his head away and they embrace instead. He closes the door and asks how she found him; she replies that it "wasn't actually that hard". She moves around the room browsing through his possessions, brushes her teeth with his toothbrush and declines to take the bath he had run for her.

Stepping back into the bedroom, the woman turns to face the man and confronts him, asking slowly "what the fuck is going on?" He motions to her to join him on the bed and at her prompting, he reveals in the ensuing conversation that he has been living in the hotel room for "more than a month", and that he had left to escape their relationship. They lie back on the bed looking at one another before being interrupted by the arrival of room service. Once alone again, the two kiss and the man begins to undress the woman. They have a mutually mistrustful exchange about not having slept with other people; when, undressing her further he notices bruises on her arm, the woman chooses not to comment on them. Lying on top of the him, she tells the man that she does not want to lose his friendship, that she loves him and never meant to hurt him. He responds coldly and dismissively, but holds her when she embraces him. "Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?" starts again and the man offers to show the woman his view of Paris.

In the next shot, the camera tracks across the room in slow motion, showing the woman perched against an armoire, the man approaching and covering her naked body with the yellow bathrobe, and the two moving towards the window. After they step out on the balcony together, the man draws a toothpick from his pocket and hands it to her with an upwards nod, which she reciprocates. After looking out at the scenery for another few seconds she clasps his neck lightly and they step back inside. The camera pans and it becomes evident that the view is completely blocked by another wing of the hotel.
A six storey building at the corner of a terrace lined in front by bare trees.
The Hôtel Raphaël in Paris, which was used as the Hotel Chevalier of the film's title and where all of the scenes were shot.

Director Wes Anderson first approached actors Schwartzman and Portman about Hotel Chevalier in 2005. Schwartzman and Anderson had previously worked on Rushmore, Anderson's cult second feature, while Portman was approached after the director obtained her email address from Scott Rudin, producer of 2004's Closer. The actors appeared for free, and Anderson financed the remainder of the production himself. It was filmed at the Hôtel Raphaël in Paris, which had previously been used as a setting for the films Love in Paris (1996) and Place Vendôme (1998). It was shot by a crew of 15 using Panavision film stock and props from Anderson's apartment. Filming took two and a half days, and editing (done on Anderson's computer) another week. Despite his use of a wardrobe from prestigious fashion designer Marc Jacobs and a handmade suitcase from Louis Vuitton, the director described the production as "like making a student film".

Anderson initially intended it to be a stand-alone short film, but shortly before filming commenced, he realized that Schwartzman's character bore a close resemblance to one of the protagonists of a feature film he was writing at the time. That film would begin production a year later as The Darjeeling Limited. Chevalier takes place two weeks before Schwartzman's character (named Jack Whitman in the feature) joins his two older brothers on a journey in India in Darjeeling. The dialogue exchanged by the characters at the end of Chevalier is recounted by Schwartzman's characters to his brothers at the close of the feature film, in the form of an excerpt from a short story he has composed. Portman's character has a brief cameo in the feature. Fox Searchlight Pictures, the studio who backed Darjeeling, were unaware of the short until the feature had been made, and claimed to have no financial interest in it.

When it was all done, I didn’t want to incorporate the short into the movie. But I couldn’t decide how I wanted it to go. I wanted to play the short in front of the movie, but not always. Sometimes I preferred to watch the movie without the short. It became a puzzle to me. So in the end I decided that I would like to have the movie open in America without the short, but I would like people to have access to it if they want to see it first.
– Wes Anderson, October 2007

Hotel Chevalier was screened as part of the program at the world première of The Darjeeling Limited at the 64th Annual Venice Film Festival on September 2, 2007.The short had its own première at Apple Stores in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco and Santa Monica, California on September 25. Anderson, Schwartzman and Portman appeared at the New York screening in SoHo, after which they held a questions and answers session with the audience. The short was made available the following day as a free download from Apple's iTunes Store. On September 28, it preceded the showing of the feature on the opening night of the 2007 New York Film Festival. A press release posted before the première "the brief coda to a doomed romance and the prologue to The Darjeeling Limited".

The film was withdrawn from iTunes after having been available for download for a month. Although it had been dismissed by USA Today columnist Susan Wloszczyna before its iTunes release as an amuse-bouche that was "destined to be a mere footnote", the short was downloaded nearly 500,000 times during its run, and received wide acclaim. The film drew some attention for co-star Natalie Portman's extended nude scene, and for her character's bruised body. Following its withdrawal from iTunes, the short was distributed in theaters as the prologue to the feature-length film. Although The New York Times reported in October 2007 that distributor Fox Searchlight Pictures intended to promote Chevalier as a competitor for the Best Live Action Short Film of the Academy Awards, it was not among that year's nominations. It was included as an extra on the Darjeeling 2008 DVD release, and Anderson's screenplay for the short was published in the Winter 2007 issue of the literary magazine Zoetrope: All-Story.

Apart from being one of the year's most discussed short films, Hotel Chevalier attracted considerable critical praise, with reviewers comparing it favorably to The Darjeeling Limited. Entertainment Weekly's Gary Susman described it as "an exquisite short story where we learn not much but exactly enough about these two characters", adding that "Chevalier sees Anderson working in his customary jewel-box/dollhouse mode, but the form and length really suit each other here." In New York Press, Armand White judged the short "moving and genuinely contemporary", citing its "lost-girl poignancy". Portman's performance was praised by TIME reviewer Richard Corliss, who declared her to be "a comic actress in fresh bloom" in the "beguiling vignette", and expressed his wish that her role in Darjeeling had been greater. The feature, he felt, lacked the "the feeling and wit of the short film".'s Stephanie Zacharek concurred, stating that "the untold story of Hotel Chevalier is 10 times more interesting, and infinitely richer, than the one told outright in The Darjeeling Limited", and calling the short "darn near perfect".

The Guardian columnist Danny Leigh contrasted the lukewarm reception of the feature among bloggers and critics with the "genuine ardour" that greeted the "perfectly measured narrative" of Chevalier. He proposed that the constraints of the short film format suited Anderson, whose trademark deadpan humor, idiosyncratic set designs and choice of soundtrack inclined to exhaust the viewers patience in a feature-length work. A. O. Scott of The New York Times hailed Chevalier as "a small gem" in comparison to the "overstuffed suitcase" of the feature, and wrote that "It is worth seeking out, not only because it fleshes out part of the story of the Whitman brothers but also because, on its own, it is an almost perfect distillation of Mr. Anderson’s vexing and intriguing talents, enigmatic, affecting and wry."

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