I was fortunate to receive many “best films” of 2014. The review below is not mine. Reading a review before viewing the film helps me to place the character in a historical setting. Then I can concentrate on the details in the film that either collaborate or oppose the opinions of the reviewer. The main character, is drawn from the novelist Stefan Zweig, whose short stories I read in German in college.
Nazis, suicide and the Jew behind ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’
by Danielle Berrin
February 17, 2015 | 2:48 pm
The Grand Budapest hotel is nestled into a snow-capped mountain dreamscape — a painterly paradise in the former republic of the fictional Zubrowka, which was once, we are told, “the seat of an empire.” It is a world awash in color, crazy characters and an antiquated glamour born of a longing for the past. And filmmaker Wes Anderson readily admits he “stole” it from Jewish novelist Stefan Zweig.
“Two characters in our story are vaguely meant to represent Zweig himself,” Anderson told British publication The Telegraph in March of last year. “In fact, the main character, who is played by Ralph Fiennes, is modeled significantly on Zweig, as well.”
Anderson is fond of crediting Zweig as the progenitor of his Oscar-nominated film (it received nine nominations in 2014, including nods for best picture, directing and original screenplay). Both the setting and the story were inspired by Zweig’s body of work — “The Post Office Girl” and “Beware of Pity” in particular — but also, more significantly, by the historical contours of Zweig’s life.
Set in the 1930s, the beautiful, baroque world evoked in the film, at once dreamy and dark, is an endangered one, a last glimmer of opulent Europe before Hitler destroyed it. The film’s cherished fairytale of grand hotels, luxury, leisure and sought-after escape is a portrait of a doomed world. And it parallels the trajectory of Zweig’s own experience as he went from wildly successful, famous writer to alienated outcast; a man in exile from his home, his mother tongue and his cherished society.
Born in 1881 to a well-to-do Viennese-Jewish family, Zweig enjoyed all the freedom, glamour and flexibility wealth could afford. His father was a textile manufacturer, and his mother came from a prominent Italian-Jewish family of bankers. This allowed him unmitigated freedom to pursue his passions; as a student, Zweig began submitting poems and essays to a literary journal and amassing a collection of important manuscripts. Later on, he would find himself in possession of a prestigious collection of rare artifacts that included Goethe manuscripts, handwritten Mozart compositions and Beethoven’s writing desk (in 1933, according to The New Yorker, he also purchased a 13-page manuscript of a speech by Hitler). Perhaps these items suggested to him the possibilities of great art, and served to fuel his ambition.
His career was undoubtedly a successful one. Zweig earned international renown as a biographer, novelist, playwright, essayist and librettist. According to The New Yorker, “he was the most translated writer in Europe” throughout the 1920s and ’30s, his work appearing in nearly 50 languages. And yet, Zweig was not considered as “literary” a writer as his contemporaries — authors and intellectuals such as Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht, Hannah Arendt and Joseph Roth, for instance (the last of whom he mentored quite devotedly). But he was far more popular and produced a prolific amount of plot-driven work that was well suited for Hollywood. His novel “Fear” was produced as a movie three different times — in 1928, 1936 and 1954, including one version starring Ingrid Bergman — and the 1948 film “Letter from an Unknown Woman” is based on another of his novels.
“In Zweig we are in the brooding, highly urbane Central European universe where sepulchral obsessions and the shady regions of the soul can only be glimpsed and not examined, much less explained, and where redemption is seldom given or earned,” scholar André Aciman writes in his introduction to Zweig’s “Journey Into the Past.” Zweig “is the master of hidden impulses, of passionate excesses … of desires that run amuck.”
In recent years, Zweig’s work has been experiencing a cultural resurgence, with new translations of his writing trickling back into print as well as a stream of cinematic interpretations finding their way to the screen. The 2013 film “A Promise” was based on “Journey Into the Past,” and George Prochnik’s acclaimed biography, “The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World” received the 2014 National Jewish Book Award.
Zweig’s romantic allure within the cultural pantheon stems from his belonging so inextricably to the past. While other Jewish writers saw war and fascism degrading Europe and promptly left, Zweig resisted. His Austrian passport, the New York Review of Books noted, enabled him to travel freely between the U.S., South America and Europe until the Anschluss in 1938. So while fellow Jewish intellectuals permanently fled around 1933 — upon Hitler’s rise to power — Zweig clung to his European lifestyle as long as he could. Still, eventually he had to leave: In 1934, Zweig left Austria for England, hoping the war would not escalate. Next he went to New York, which he frankly didn’t like. And by the time his books had been thoroughly maligned and banned in Europe, he finally capitulated and went into exile in Brazil.
It was there, along with his second wife, Lotte (formerly his secretary, 30 years his junior, whom his first wife appointed), that Zweig and his beloved ingested a fatal dose of Veronal in a dramatic double-suicide worthy of cinema. In his suicide note, he complained of “my own language having disappeared from me and my spiritual home, Europe, having destroyed itself.” He confessed he didn’t have the energy within him to “make a new beginning.” Everything he loved, everything he cherished, the urbane, borderless Europe that once afforded so many pleasures and treasured experiences, ceased to exist.
As sometimes happens, Zweig’s suicide heightened his fame as never before, with The New York Times reporting his death on its front page. But to this day, many still puzzle over why Zweig killed himself: Had he not been spared the horrors of the Holocaust? Had he not possessed means and talent, friendship and love? A day before his death, he had completed the second of two major new works. So what was it, exactly, that Zweig couldn’t handle?
Fellow writers were brutal in criticizing Zweig’s political cowardice. “He should never have granted the Nazis this triumph,” Mann said of Zweig’s suicide. “And had he had a more powerful hatred and contempt for them, he would never have done it.” In reviewing his memoir, “The World of Yesterday,” Arendt accused Zweig of being blind to the political realities of his time and slammed him for his “unpolitical point of view” concerned only for his own fame. But where Zweig’s contemporaries found solace in intellectual and political resistance, Zweig, ever the ardent pacifist, found himself at a loss. “I would never speak against Germany. I would never speak against any country,” he said, excusing his silence as a byproduct of temperament. “I am a man who prizes nothing more highly than peace and quiet.”
There was no peace, though, for Zweig in exile. “I ceased to feel as if I quite belonged to myself,” he wrote in his memoir. “A part of the natural identity with my original and essential ego was destroyed forever.” In other words, the urbane, sophisticated, secular Jew who prized the freedom to travel anywhere and belong everywhere — but who, notably, rejected Zionism — in the end, found himself an estranged citizen, a wandering Jew.
At the conclusion of “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” there is a telling scene between the present owner of the hotel, Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) and a young writer (Jude Law). After Moustafa shares the story of the hotel, recalling its glory days and the legendary concierge Gustave H (played by Ralph Fiennes and based on Zweig), who was shot by German authorities during the war, Moustafa offers a kind of elegy for that lost world, and the artistic soul decimated by it: “There are still faint glimmers of civilization left over in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity — he was one of them.”
When the young writer asks if Moustafa keeps the Grand Budapest, now dilapidated and empty, to honor a “lost connection to a banished world — his world,” Moustafa answers with a sad lament. He is talking, of course, about Zweig:
“To be frank,” he tells the young writer, “I think his world had vanished long before he ever entered it. But I will say, he certainly sustained the illusion with a marvelous grace.”
Like the fantasy of Zion restored, the world Zweig so ardently longed for was the world of his own imagination. The writer in him yearned for the world as it ought to be, but the Jew in him was forced to live in the world as it was — broken, bitter, emptied out of the 6 million souls just like him who once lived at the heights and ended in smoke.
The Promised Vegi Challeng -adapted from Southernblondevegan:
I have seen many people show interest in going vegan/macro in the new year, after Passover, so I wanted to do a series of posts on how to get started and my best tips for success in this lifestyle!
1. Firstly, Spring is the time of regeneration. Israel is Abundance. What do I mean by this? It’s actually really simple – while there are hundreds of delicious fun plant-based foods you can eat and recipes to try, the basics of eating a vegan diet are really simple. FILL your home with an ABUNDANCE of FRESH foods! Do 90% of your shopping in the produce section of your store, and leave the other 10% for whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. If a product contains an ingredient your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize, do not eat it or buy it. Pack your refrigerator and pantry full of fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables. These are the ultimate fast food! When you’re hungry and craving something sweet, grab a couple of dates, an apple, some grapes, make a smoothie, or a “nicecream“ (blended frozen mango). If you’re craving something savory, roast some vegetables/ and throw them on the biggest bowl full of greens you can find, make a veggie burger, make a veggie sandwich on Ezekiel bread, or a massize bowl of zoodles (zucchini noodles) with a plant-based sauce – all of these are super filling and satisfying meals. These are just a few examples of meals we eat constantly! EAT a LOT. Do not ever limit your fruit or vegetable intake. Counting calories is a thing of the past for you. You are counting nutrients now!
2. Educate yourself. The best way to insure success and longevity in this lifestyle is to be fully informed of the reasons why it is so important for each person, our planet, and the creatures we share it with. Veganism/macro is best for our health, the health of the world our children inherit, and the health of the animals we co-exist with. Read books (“The China Study” by Dr. T Colin Campbell, “Whole” by Dr. T Colin Campbell, “801010” by Dr. Douglas Graham), watch documentaries (Forks Over Knives, Earthlings, Vegucated, Cowspiracy), and follow vegan blogs with great tips and recipes (ohsheglows.com, delciouslyella.com, minimalistbaker.com, mywholefoodlife.com, rawsomeveganlife.com).
3. Give yourself grace. This is not a simple transition when you’ve been eating a certain way your whole life. What I can tell you is, it gets easier and easier the longer you do it. I know it seems as though it would be the opposite but it’s not. You will probably feel a little like death for the first few weeks. Your body has MANY chemicals and toxins it will be detoxing from, and it will suck. You will crave sugars, fats, and processed foods like drugs – because they act like drugs to the brain. It’s scientifically proven, refined sugars have the same effect as crack on your brain. IT WILL SUCK. But push through and don’t be too hard on yourself for struggling, it’s inevitable. When you push past the first month, you are in the clear. It only gets easier from there! Your body will begin to crave things like kale, spinach, broccoli, fresh fruits, omega-3’s, and whole grains. You will begin to feel better than ever!
4. Eat out smart. You do not have to confine yourself to your home to eat! Most restaurants have vegan options or are happy to accommodate you, just ASK. Google is your friend! Research a restaurant before going there to plan out what options are available. You do not always have to stick with a simple “garden salad”, how boring is that for every meal? If there are no good vegan options readily available for you somewhere, get creative with menu options and transform a dish by taking away/adding certain ingredients. You will be surprised just how helpful most places are! With all of this being said, I DO recommend most meals be cooked yourself. It’s just better to know where your food is coming from, how it’s being prepared, and what is going into the process. We have become so accustomed to other people making our food for us, we need to take that responsibility back for ourselves and take charge of the fuel we put in our bodies.
5. Invite others on your journey, but never push them. I can say without a doubt, this is an easier transition to make with a loved one! It’s so wonderful to have a partner to hold each other accountable and share your highs and lows with. If you can find that, great! If you can’t, never try to force someone to do this if they aren’t ready. This is not simply a “diet” to lose weight , it is a whole life change. You can be a great example to another person just by living your life and allowing them to see what a positive impact this has on you. Eventually, they may desire it for themselves when they’re ready!
6. Blenders are your friend. I use my blender and food processor constantly. I make soups, desserts, sauces, smoothies, juices, crackers, crusts, breads, and just about everything else you can imagine with these two tools. They make a plant-based diet much more enjoyable! You don’t need a ton of fancy tools, but I do absolutely recommend a great high speed blender and a good food processor.
7. Quit the artificial sugars – NOW. No more splenda, sweet & low, or anything next to them on the shelf. These are cancer causing chemicals that are highly addictive and very dangerous to our bodies. The sweetener I suggest, aside from pure maple and natural fruits, is stevia. It’s made from a plant and actually tastes much better than the alternatives! Liquid stevia may cost a bit more, but if you need to sweeten teas, dessert, lemonade, or smoothies this is the best way hands down. They come in all kinds of flavors (vanilla crème and English toffee are my favorites!). No more carbonated drinks and sugary sodas. Just quit them, cold turkey, and never look back. It is NOT too late to take control of your health.
8. Try new things! There are SO many times on my journey where I would ask my husband to try one of my vegan creations and he would do the Jimmy Fallon “EW” before even tasting it. I would then plead with him to be open minded, and after tasting them, he would be shocked! Be open to trying new plant-foods and cooking them in different ways to find out what you prefer. Experimenting is your friend. Take a recipe from someone and make it your own based on what YOU like!
9. Be patient with others ridicule. You will be very surprised at how many people will criticize you for your decision. We as a culture are very confused with food. You will be asked about your protein, daily. Here is a really simple response – all food has protein, and with a well balanced vegan diet you can easily exceed the amount of protein needed to thrive. Have you ever actually met someone with a protein deficiency? I have been vegan for 3 years now, and after getting my blood tested my protein levels were way above what was considered “acceptable”. This is from plant foods only! You will have many people tell you you’re being “irresponsible” with your health by going vegan. This is simply so twisted. This is always why my #2 tip is so important – be INFORMED so you know how to answer the criticism.
10. Do not quit on yourself. This is the rest of your life here. If you drop your phone and it gets a tiny crack do you proceed to chunk it at the wall until it breaks into 1,000 pieces? No. So if you fall off track and make one mistake do not sabotage the rest of your life due to one mess up. There are so many important reasons to commit to a vegan lifestyle, and the more you research the more you’ll learn them in detail, so keep those at the front of your mind and keep pushing forward. Do not quit on your health, you are worth the struggle it takes to get where you want to be.
I hope some of these can help you on your journey forward! As always, if any of you has any questions ask away. I certainly do not claim to have all the answers but I’m here to help any way I can!