Before the Venice screening of ‘Darjeeling’, Anderson presented a seventeen-minute short film called ‘Hotel Chevalier’, which he originally conceived to play before the main feature, although there’s now talk that it will only be available to see online come the film’s UK release in November. This wistful and maudlin short story offers some background to the main attraction as Schwartzmann and Natalie Portman play a pair of estranged lovers who square up to each other in the sumptuous surroundings of a Parisian hotel room.
Those fifteen minutes are classic Wes Anderson. His camera moves with grace and precision through the room as Schwartzmann, with a sad look on his face and a stark moustache above his lip, waits for Portman to arrive. Sitting on the floor is a beautiful tanned-leather trunk decorated with colourful images of elephants (one of a set crafted especially for the film by Marc Jacobs). On the stereo we hear Peter Sarstedt’s wistful ode to Paris, ‘Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)', and all around there’s evidence of the same deep orange that characterises Schwartzmann’s hotel dressing-gown, from the thick duvet on the bed to the towels in the bathroom. If there’s one element of ‘Hotel Chevalier’ that’s surprising for Anderson, it’s a strong sense of romance and sexuality: in one shot, Schwartzmann gently pulls off Portman’s clothes to reveal her naked body from behind, and a later shot has Portman, nude, standing still in a doorway, one foot up against the frame. It’s a beautiful shot, and one that’s made even more pertinent by Sarstedt’s melancholic lyrics on the soundtrack. It’s the sexiest thing that Anderson has ever done.