The Grand Budapest Hotel
Directed & Written
Wes Anderson's films are unique, quirky, hilarious and always special, but I believe he has created one of his most layered, delightful films with The Grand Budapest Hotel. That is not to say it is better than some of my favorites like Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom, but it is right up there with those great films and has shown that Anderson is always evolving, while maintaining his detail-oriented style and textures. A return to harder language and venturing into a comedy-crime caper really shows an expansion of his talents and a serious appreciation for classic cinema. There are notes of early British Hitchcock, comedy that reminded me of Chaplin, Keaton, the Marx brothers, Pierre Etaix and Jacques Tati, and the comedy-drama stylings and storytelling of Ernst Lubitsch. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a perfect Anderson film and will definitely be one of the best of this year.
I have no objections in admitting I am a huge Wes Anderson fan. His films are anally designed, quirky as hell, has mise-en-scène that is centered and smooth, and dialogue that is full of irony, humor and intelligence. I love all of his films, but this one, and Moonrise Kingdom, have shown me that he is constantly evolving as a writer and filmmaker. That he is probably never going to go away from that desire for obsessive details and ironic quirk that fills his writing, but it is expanding his horizons and abilities. The Grand Budapest Hotel has all the trappings and qualities of being a "Wes Anderson-y film," but expresses a respect for a society, culture and way of life that is long gone. A changing continent and world. A type of life and living that does not exist anymore, but feels so right in the hands of Wes Anderson.
The film, which is inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig, takes place within a series of flashbacks. First, with the older author (Tom Wilkinson) of "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and then to the author (Jude Law) in his younger days. The latter is at the dilapidated Grand Budapest Hotel, where he meets the owner, Mr. Moustafa (the great F. Murray Abraham). The hotel has seen better days, but Moustafa begins to tell his story and the glory days of this once special establishment. We are sent back to the early 1930s, in the imaginary Eastern European country of Zubrowka, which is set in the Alps and could easily be compared to Hungary or Romania. Here is where we meet the titular, charming head concierge Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) and the story begins.
Everything up to this point is straight up typical, excessively detailed Anderson. The framing, sets, clothing are all perfect and you know you are in an Anderson film. What begins to set it apart, much like with Bill Murray in Rushmore and Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums, is the delightful, amazing work of Fiennes. It is written so beautifully, with charming wit and plenty of F-bombs. Yes, thank you for getting back into R-rated territory Mr. Anderson. The dialogue is so precise, intelligent and fast paced. Fiennes really delivers the goods here and sets this film apart from some of Anderson's previous work. The charm and love that was present in Moonrise Kingdom is mostly gone, and we have a delightful, but vulgar concierge who sleeps with his older patrons and has a flare for the finer things in life. He holds himself, and the hotel, in the highest esteem and expects that from all who work there, especially his new lobby boy Zero Mosutafa (Tony Revolori). Their relationship and friendship is the real heart and backbone of the film.
The relationship between Gustave and Zero harkens back to the friendship between Max and Herman in Rushmore. Gustave takes Zero under his wing and teaches him the highest detail and order of conducting business at the hotel. It is a relationship that grows so genuinely and really continues one of Anderson's main themes of odd, important friendships between the most unlikeliest of people. Revolori really is a breakthrough here, delivering sweetness and surprise with his new found requirements. The chemistry between Fiennes and Revolori is fantastic throughout the whole film and they feed off each other like they have worked together before.
The plot gets going with the death of the wealthy Madame D. (a heavily aged Tilda Swinton). She has entrusted most of her will to Gustave, at the disapproval of her son Dimitri (Adrien Brody), and also wants Gustave to have the precious Renaissance painting "Boy with Apple." Gustave takes the painting and is charged with theft and murder. Gustave, who is trying to retain the essence and respect of refinement, and holding on to the good stuff in life against the impending war, is captured and sentenced to jail. He eventually breaks out with the help of inmates and Zero. This film is non-stop once we get into Gustave's world. Full of laughs and an ever-searching quality for holding on to this refined period in time and history. It is a crime caper of the highest order and one that really expresses the appreciation and wealth of Anderson's respect for classic cinema.
One thing I really admired was the varying aspect ratios. 2:85, 1:87 and 1:37 are all presented here and thankfully Anderson did this. I loved seeing the 1930s part, which is the majority of the film, presented in the classic cinema ratio of 1:37. It looked glorious. The framing from longtime cinematographer Robert Yeoman, production design from Adam Stockhausen and a delightful, playful score from Alexandre Desplat really added to the multiple textures and layers that The Grand Budapest Hotel has going for it. It was a great film just for all of those reasons.
Anderson wrote a wonderful script and brought aspects of the changing European continent with the impending wars of the early 1900s. He may have changed some names and switched the swastika for a "ZZ" symbol, but it holds all the same. The film really delves into a changing world and a world that is long gone. It also holds true that there is good out there and sometimes you find it as you go. That is to say it comes from the most unlikely of places and people. This is Anderson's most polished, layered film to date and it really shows an evolution in his growth as a filmmaker. No more quirks and jaguar sharks for design sake. Although I like that too. No more style over substance. The substance is strong, funny and brilliantly put together. There is also an excellent prison escape scene and flourishes of the great Ernst Lubitsch are present throughout the narrative.
Like I said before, Fiennes is outstanding. He completely owns this role and gives one rousing, charming, hilarious performance. I cannot imagine anyone else playing Gustave H. with such charm and a funny tawdriness. This is award-worthy territory here, much like the great performance from Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums. I hope we get to see Fiennes and Anderson work together again real soon.
If you are going into this film hoping to see many of the actors that have worked with Anderson for numerous, or just the second time, in the majority of the film, be prepared to be disappointed. It really focuses on Fiennes, Revolori, Abraham and Saoirse Ronan, who plays Agatha, the love interest of Zero. The Anderson regulars: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Edward Norton, Larry Pine, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum and Bob Balaban, along with newcomers Mathieu Almaric, Tom Wilkinson, Jude Law and Léa Seydoux, only appear in mere cameos. Some may have a few more scenes than others, but it is not a lot. The whole family is together and they are all outstanding though. Abraham and Revolori are amazing and I loved the performances from Ketiel, Dafoe, Almaric, Swinton and Goldblum. Shit, they are all great.
Wes Anderson just keeps getting better and better. The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of his greatest achievements and shows a real growth in his writing and directing. It is definitely a "Wes Anderson film," but with a little more substance over style. Ralph Fiennes is phenomenal and delivers one of the best performances in his already decorated career. I cannot praise this film enough and really am excited to revisit this one as soon as possible.
Photo credit by IMDB.