The Grand Budapest Hotel
|UK Release Date||7th March 2014|
|Reviewed||3rd March 2014|
Chances are you’re in one of two camps when it comes to Wes Anderson. For every person who thought Rushmore, The Life Aquatic and Moonrise Kingdom were amazing, there are probably more than a few who are up to here in meticulous uniform detail and huge, two-dimensional sets. If you’re in any doubt which camp you’re in, I suspect you haven’t seen any of the above. For the record, we’re residing in the first camp - something to bear in mind when reading what follows…
The Grand Budapest Hotel is Anderson’s 8th full length film and it really feels like he’s hitting his stride now. Set in and around the titular hotel, this tells the story within a story within a story of Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham and Tony Revolori at different stages), a lobby boy who is taken under the wing of hotel concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) as the war breaks out. M. Gustave’s peculiar methods, particularly with his elderly blonde female guests lead him to inherit a priceless painting (Boy with Apple) much to the anger of the deceased family. When it is established that the lady in question, Madame D (Tilda Swinton almost unrecognisable under the prosthetics), was in fact murdered, Gustave is the prime suspect and, after the briefest of times on the run, he is jailed. It is left to his trusty protégé to rescue him and the hotel.
I say story within a story within a story above because the movie opens with Tom Wilkinson’s Author narrating a book being read at his memorial by a young girl. The book tells of the young Author’s meeting with an elderly Zero years before. At that meeting, Zero tells the tale of how he comes to own the now dilapidated hotel of the title. It’s an utterly and brilliantly unnecessary device, seemingly put there by Anderson purely for the sheer hell of it. To add to it, the director uses different shooting ratios depending on which time the story is in. Which should be bothersome but for some reason just adds to the joyful madness of the piece.
The cast list is simply astonishing. Fiennes takes centre stage but in addition to those mentioned above, we also get Murray, Amalric, Brody, Dafoe, Goldblum, Keitel, Law, Norton, Ronan, Schwartzman, Seydoux and Wilson. All in a variety of bonkers roles that vary between blink and you’ll miss them to more than cameo. Fiennes is the star of the piece though. The bulk of the movie follows him and Zero and they are a superb coupling. Fiennes’ effeminate, authoritarian, philandering Gustav is a whirlwind to keep up with. Prone to flourishes of wholly unnecessary poetry, he is none the less self aware enough to realise when he’s being pretentious - at one stage getting halfway through a verse before staring forlornly out of the train window and wearily breathing out ‘aw, fuck it…’ It’s these moments of punctured pomposity that keep Anderson’s movie on the straight and narrow (or at least within the confines of its own ludicrously slalom run) and Fiennes absolutely nails the role. Close behind him is Revolori’s young Zero. Resplendent in purple uniform and drawn on moustache, Zero is at once an innocent running after his mentor and a much older boy than he seems (his past is murky but it would appear that he is some kind of refugee from a civil war). Constantly Gustav’s servant, he is just at home pulling his master up when he perceives him to be flirting with his girlfriend.
Anderson’s script is frenetic and generous with its great lines, the majority of the players listed above get at least one laugh, despite their relative short appearances on screen, and it whizzes along at a break-neck pace. Once Zero and the young Author sit down for dinner, we barely pause for breath, emerging a perfect 99 minutes later with only a vague idea of what just hit us. Anderson and regular director of photography Robert D. Yeoman give us everything we would expect in terms of film style and vision. Lateral tracking shots whizz us along beautifully created sets, filled with colour and an absurd amount of glorious detail (shout out to Adam Stockhausen’s production design). Nothing is left to chance, every part of the screen is filled with Anderson’s seemingly never ending imagination. We get a prolonged ski chase, clearly animated in 2D that will either completely delight you or have you rolling your eyes and a variety of set pieces that will no doubt have a similar effect - a foot chase scene between Goldblum’s Deputy Kovacs and Dafoe’s homicidal Jopling is particularly nonsensical but still great and the prolonged jail-break is almost too full of ideas (mostly deliberately stolen) for its own good. And that’s not to mention a series of phone calls that at one point threatened to take in everyone in Hollywood, just for the sake of it.
The Grand Budapest Hotel may be the perfect Wes Anderson film. And if that fills you with dread, you aren’t going to be converted here. If you want to spend 99 minutes inside a mind-bendingly brilliant imagination though, this movie is an absolute treat. Every single (variously ratioed) frame of this movie has been agonised over and filmed to absolute perfection. The script crackles with superb absurdist humour and brilliantly unnecessary verbal flourishes. An undercurrent of nostalgia for a time when structures like The Grand Budapest were flourishing (all be it for a small portion of any population) and occasional moments of brutality (usually blackly funny) keep the whole enterprise just the right side of full on farce. Few filmmakers today command their movies to the point where you absolutely know from first glance whose film it is but Anderson is one of them. For better or for worse, this is an absolute Wes Anderson film (I don’t think I’ve mentioned a director’s name so many times in a review before) and for me, this is very much for the better. He has created a complete, brilliant, bat-shit crazy world and I loved every minute of it. And if we come across a finer comic performance this year than Ralph Fiennes’ M. Gustav, we’d be very surprised.
Check out the trailer here.