Review – The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Director: Wes Anderson
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saorise Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson
Wes Anderson is probably the most distinctive cinematic voice in America today. An Indie darling, he has strong sense of aesthetic design and a quirky approach to narrative and character which he has been refining for almost two decades. With The Grand Budapest Hotel,Anderson’s eighth feature, we get his take on the 1930s caper movie, and in many ways the film his entire body of work has been building towards.
The Grand Budapest Hotel presents us with a Russian doll structure, with layer upon layer of prologue leading us in to the story. Each era, each layer of untrustworthy narration, is visually represented by a different aspect ratio. We start in the present day as a girl visits a park where there stands a monument to ‘The Author.’ She opens a book called ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel.’ From there we are taken to 1985, to the study of that author, who sets about narrating to us the story of his visit to the hotel. We then venture back to 1968 when the author, as a younger man, first arrived at the once great hotel and became intrigued by its wealthy owner, Zero Moustafa. Over dinner one evening, Mr. Moustafa begins to recount to the author the story of how he came to own the hotel. Finally, we come to rest in 1932 with the story of the young Zero, a humble lobby boy, and his mentor, M. Gustave. M. Gustave was the heart and soul of the Grand Budapest Hotel. A concierge, Gustave is at the beck and call of the many wealthy dowagers who are drawn to the Grand Budapest by, among other things, the ‘services’ he offers. When one of the older and wealthier of these clients, Madame D, expires, her will is found to bequeath a priceless artwork to Gustave. Her family is outraged and Gustave finds himself accused of murdering her. What results is a good old-fashioned caper farce.
At a time when so many mainstream comedies are built around rambling improvisation, there is something really striking about the meticulously crafted nature of Anderson’s films. The Grand Budapest Hotel is very carefully structured. The dialogue and performances are precisely delivered. The framing of each and every shot has an intentionality to it. The film is alive with Anderson’s trademark bright pastel colours, in this case particularly pinks and purples. This fictional Europe Anderson has created has a sense of fantasy to it (the titular hotel is not in fact located in the Hungarian capital but rather in the fictional country of Zubrowska), with some exterior scenes employ a sort of stop-motion animation style, with a similar mechanical feel to The Fantastic Mr. Fox. All performers speak in their own accents, creating an endearing hodge-podge of dialects.
The Grand Budapest Hotel boasts a truly star-studded cast. There are recognisable names playing even the smallest of roles. The Anderson regulars like Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson, take a back seat in this one, filling only very minor roles. Previous collaborators like Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum and Edward Norton are back for another go around to flesh out the cast, but at the centre of the film are four newcomers to the world of Wes; Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Jude Law and Tony Revolori. Across the board the cast is wonderful, but it is Fiennes who really shines.
Ralph Fiennes and Wes Anderson seems like a strange combination. But just as Anderson drew one of the great comedic performances out of Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums, Fiennes, despite not being known as a comedic performer, proves to be tremendous as the concierge-gigolo, M. Gustave. While still speaking and moving in accordance with Anderson’s rhythms, Fiennes brings a different presence to the film which enables the character to move beyond some of the constraints of a Wes Anderson character. M. Gustave is a more sexualised character than we are used to encountering in Anderson’s work. He also has these explosive outbursts of swearing, similarly out of character for an Anderson protagonist, but used to great comic effect when contrasted with his usual polished demeanour.
As a filmmaker, Wes Anderson is yet to make a serious misstep in his 20 year career, so expectations are always reasonably high when a new film is released. But The Grand Budapest Hotel is such a well-crafted, vibrant and fun film that it quite possibly could be his best film yet.
Review by Duncan McLean
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