A transit point for a celestial journey to the afterlife seems possible only in Varanasi, where several death-hotels have historically existed for those looking to embrace death in the holy city. Check in any time you like, but you must leave if you don’t die inside of your two-week stay at the hotel. In the superb Mukti Bhawan, Hussain is Rajeev, an overworked businessman commanded one fine day by his septuagenarian father, Daya (Lalit Behl) to escort him to Benares, where the former schoolteacher will attain salvation at Mukti Bhawan, the perfect place for a ‘deathcation’, if one may say so. Reeling under the pressures and vexations of city life, Rajeev reluctantly agrees. Varanasi has found frequent mentions in Hindi film, but Shubhashish Bhutiani’s excellent debut exists in an unprecedented duality—drollness and profundity, wryness and compassion, detachment and materiality, and most crucially, life and death.
This lighter remake of The Grand Hotel (1932) stands out as a hotel-centric film that features scenes actually shot at The Waldorf Astoria, as opposed to wholly on MGM’s preferred and vast studio sets. While the star-studded cast—including Ginger Rogers, Lana Turner, Van Johnson, and Walter Pidgeon—definitely soak up their share of the limelight, the true celebrity of the movie are the palatial bones of the Waldorf: from rooftop scenes of NYC’s skyline and the inspection of bell boy gloves in the lobby to vignettes of the hotel window washers verily hanging outside the open windows of the fortieth floor and doorman welcoming the hotel’s posh poodle residents on their morning walk. Parts of the film haven’t aged well, like many pictures made in 1940s America, but the Waldorf exudes pure wonder; with help from a cameo by Xavier Cugat, the famous bandleader of the hotel’s resident orchestra at the time, the ‘King of the Rumba’ is a stark reminder of the unadulterated glamour from the halcyon days of grand hotels.
Adapted from Hunter S. Thompson’s novel of the same name, master filmmaker Terry Gilliam is helped in no small measure by the excellent casting in this 1998 film. Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro bring to life the eccentric and rather extreme Duke and Gonzo, essayed by Thompson in his ’71 masterpiece. While the hotels and casinos in Las Vegas and surrounds are not a centre-piece of the narrative, most of the titular duo’s ‘otherworldly adventures’ take place in suites that start off in pristine condition and end up in complete ruin by the time they’re done with it. Controversy dogged the film through its production and even reception was a mixed bag, with audiences and critics evenly split.
Norwegian filmmaker Arild Fröhlich’s film is set in a high-end hotel and shows the audience the relationship that develops between a writer, Axel, struggling with alcoholism and a 10-year-old boy Noah, with ADHD and dealing with bullying at school. As the troubled child and adult find their lives becoming entangled while they stay at the hotel, the audience is treated to the director’s unique perspective on several themes that go beyond the usual tropes of a coming-of-age story. The hotel serves as an escape from the harsh realities both have been trying to distance themselves from and eventually also as a space that brings them closer and explores issues in modern society.
Despite bearing a generic title, this technicolour drama approximates the ins and outs of hotel trade quite well. Australian actor Rod Taylor stars as Peter McDermott, the general manager of St Gregory’s Hotel, a beloved New Orleans fixture, on the brink of financial ruin. There’s of course an obligatory big, bad businessman who dreams and schemes of owning St Gregory’s and breaking up its suites and installing conveying belts in its dining areas (sacré blue!). None of the set pieces, whether it be the dark wood-panelled rooms and elevators or the playfully pop main lobby, are real but the pleasantly vintage decor and objets d’art form the key intoxicants in this nostalgic, bubble gum brew.
Seductive, feverish, gloomy and much misunderstood, this doozy informal sequel to Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000) is a stellar addition to Hong Kong cinema. Soaked from head to toe in disenchantment, jilt and hedonism, and lodged in room 2046 of the fictional Oriental Hotel in 1966 Hong Kong, a writer of pulp science fiction and a womanizer (Tony Leung Chiu-wai) is journeying in time in his imagination, while staying put at the rundown family-run boarding house. He has frequent liaisons with women—prostitutes, the owner’s heartbroken daughter (watch out for the exquisite terrace sequences with the iconic hotel signage), and a parallel-universe version of his love interest from Mood.
Amor Towles’s second novel owes its inception to his pre-writing years, spent as a banker flitting from one ritzy five-star to another. The book’s lanky leading man, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, is the sort of refined grand-hotel guest who glides, instead of merely walking, through its gilded foyers. In post-Revolutionary Russia, however, aristocrats are being winnowed and Rostov is exiled to his favourite lodging—the Metropol in Moscow. Ever the Metropol devotee, the Count uses his time to get even more intimate with the place’s unending charms—baroque eight-foot-windowed suites, a vaunted restaurant, Boyarsky, with classy wines and an impeccable wait staff. Rostov might be in a gentler gulag but Towles’s gallant descriptions of its fine salons and silverware make hotel life seem like the most exquisite of all imprisonment.
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