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Sausages of Suspicion

April 23, 2014

One of my favorite things in The Grand Budapest Hotel is an homage to my favorite scene in Jacques Becker’s 1960 prison-break film Le Trou, which I happened to see a couple of months ago. Becker shows us a guard checking food for contraband, the food that the inmates individually receive from the outside: sausages, cakes, loaves of bread, cartons of rice pudding, and what have you. The guard uses a big knife for this, cutting, slashing, stirring and probing. Nothing in scene is actually necessary for the movie, but it goes on for awhile, a little longer than you would expect. But you can’t imagine Becker was ever tempted to cut it, because the action is so wonderfully compelling. Most of the actors in the movie are non-professionals, and I suspect this guard may have been played by an actual guard who did this job for real. His movements are both practiced and casual, crude but swift and efficient to the point of elegance. There is a visceral beauty in them that can only be found in handiwork, in the body’s choreography at a task. To this is added the satisfyingly weighty presence of the food, the way it generously gives way to the knife, revealing itself to us. Who doesn’t like to see the slicing of good wholesome foodstuff? At its heart Le Trou is a film of procedure, an observation of men working (it is interesting that so much of the work we see in movies is that of criminals or of cops; we apparently need the extra tension crime provides to appreciate it).  This scene, as simple as it is, seems to me the best of that. The whole movie is very good and well worth your time.

Wes Anderson’s homage is very brief, but if you have seen the original you know the reference is direct and intentional. His scene is less gratuitous than Becker’s, locking very neatly into the story. It is probably not the best thing in the movie — which I think is also well worth watching — but it did please me particularly. It can give a good feeling, to catch artworks conversing and co-mingling, borrowing each others clothes, giving little nods. It is so friendly.

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