A Brilliant Collage of Anderson’s Best
A Film Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Wes Anderson is one of my favorite filmmaker and has been for quite some time, ever since I first saw The Darjeeling Unlimited and then basically binge watched all of his other works as quickly as possible. Keeping in mind how brilliant his previous venture Moonrise Kingdom was, I can say with full confidence that The Grand Budapest Hotel is the best work he’s ever done. It’s a comedy noire that’s hilarious in every single moment but with an understated darkness that indicates the horrific events of World War II that were still to arrive. The performances are beyond incredible and Anderson manages to actually make Ralph Fiennes incredibly hilarious. To make a point, this is the man who played Lord Voldemort and Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List. The art direction and production design is top notch, with color literally bursting out of every frame. Anderson is on full force here, as if energized by Alexandre Desplat’s incredible score. For the sake of heavens, this film is incredible.
The best aspect of the film is despite how stylized it is, there’s nuance and heart permeating through its every edifice. Anderson at his best is able to create the strangest worlds that are enriched with the most human of stories and The Grand Budapest Hotel carries that from beginning to finish. The film begins with a teenage girl who is reading a narrative about an author (Tom Wilkinson) who had visited the legendary Grand Budapest Hotel in the Republic of Zubrowka in 1968. The author at that younger age (Jude Law) remembers his conversation with a man named Zero Moustafa, who had been an apprentice to the extraordinary concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) as the storm clouds of World War II were on the horizon. The hotel in 1968 is in relative disrepair and there’s only a few guests left. The author wonders why he would even keep the hotel at that point and the story begins. In 1932, young Zero was a bellboy under the philandering Gustave who enjoyed the company of older women. When one of those elderly women, Madame Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe und Taxis (Tilda Swinton), dies mysteriously, the murder mystery mixes in with the plot and the movie truly kicks off.
Zubrowka is a country nestled in the European Alps, at the crux of the geopolitical factionalism that would tear the continent apart. It’s a smart move for Anderson to just create a fictional country that can perfectly encapsulate the various myriad geopolitics without making too noted of a point about history and smacking his audience over the head with it. Anderson’s visual flair is on even grander display compared to usual and creating an entirely new country allows for the grand art and production design to feel authentic to a culture that doesn’t actually exist. If he had kept the plot within a real nation, Anderson’s visual style would have had to conform to historical accuracy and perhaps not, but it would have hurt the film either way. With a fictional nation, Anderson allows himself to get away with a lot and to the film’s incredible credit, Zubrowka feels real, it feels lived in and truly a society on the brink of collapse with a World War on the way but trying to live in the present nevertheless. With an over-the-top setting like The Grand Budapest Hotel, the film also is able to bring in a ton of characters with eccentric flairs of all kinds and it feels all the more colorful and vibrant for it.
All of this meticulous architecture constructed of Anderson’s best traits would have fallen apart without the absolutely phenomenal performances that Anderson garners out of his cast. Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter), F. Murray Abraham (Homeland), Edward Norton (The Incredible Hulk), Mathieu Amalric (Quantum of Solace), Saoirse Ronan (Hanna), Adrien Brody (The Pianist), Willem Dafoe (Out of the Furnace), Léa Seydoux (Blue is the Warmest Color), Jeff Goldblum (Independence Day), Jason Schwartzman (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), Jude Law (Side Effects), Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin), Harvey Keitel (Pulp Fiction), Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton), Bill Murray (The Royal Tenenbaums), Owen Wilson (Midnight in Paris), and Tony Revolori are all in this film and each and every single one of them manages to imbue their characters with multiple shades. Fiennes, Ronan, and Revolori are the absolute standouts here. Fiennes, primarily known for his villanoius, dark roles, is absolutely hilarious in the film as he brings uncanny levels of excitement and energetic playfulness to Gustave. Ronan is electric in her few scenes, commanding the scenes with a relentless wit. And Revolori is a revelation, putting his best work yet in the largest role the young actor’s been given. Even with all of the performances, the set design, and the incredible energy of the film, no Anderson film is complete without an incredible emotional pathos that reverberates throughout every scene. As the film speeds towards its conclusion, you may found yourself to be on the verge of tears. That this grand experiment of color and bravado can bring that level of emotional catharsis to you is an incredible achievement. Go watch this.
Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Gustave: “You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that’s what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant… oh, fuck it.”
+Henckels: “By order of the commissioner of police, Zubrowka Province, I hereby place you under arrest for the murder of Madame Celine Villenueve Desgoffe-und-Taxis.”
Gustave: “I knew there was something fishy. We never got the cause of death. She’s been murdered, and you think I did it.”
+Deputy Kovacs: “Did he just throw my cat out of the window?”
+Dmitri: “If I learn you ever once laid a finger on my mother’s body, living or dead, I swear to God, I’ll cut your throat! You hear me?”
+Gustave: “I thought I was supposed to be a fucking f*****.”
Dmitri: “You are, but you’re bisexual.”
+Gustave: “Who’s got The Throat-Slitter?”
+Gustave: “Rudeness is merely an expression of fear. People fear they won’t get what they want. The most dreadful and unattractive person only needs to be loved, and they will open up like a flower.”
+Pinky: “Me and the boys talked it over. We think you’re a really straight fellow.”
Gustave: “Well, I’ve never been accused of that before, but I appreciate the sentiment.”
+Gustave: “If I die first, and I almost certainly will, you will be my sole heir. There’s not much in the kitty, except a set of ivory-backed hairbrushes and my library of romantic poetry, but when the time comes, these will be yours. Along with whatever we haven’t already spent on whores and whiskey.”
+Young Author: “It was an enchanting old ruin. But I never managed to see it again.”
+Gustave: “I give you my word, if you lay a finger on this man, I’ll see you dishonorably discharged, locked up in the stockade, and hanged by sundown.”
Title: The Grand Budapest Hotel
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Wes Anderson
Produced by: Wes Anderson, Jeremy Dawson, Steven M. RalesScott Rudin
Screenplay by: Wes Anderson
Story by: Wes Anderson, Hugo Guinness
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Edward Norton, Mathieu Amalric, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoem, Léa Seydoux, Jeff Goldblum, Jason Schwartzman, Jude Law, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Tony Revolori
Music: Alexandre Desplat
Cinematography: Robert Yeoman
Editing: Barney Pilling
Production Company: American Empirical Pictures, Indian Paintbrush, Babelsberg Studio
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Running Time: 99 minutes
Release Dates: 6 February 2014 (Berlin), 6 March 2014 (Germany), 7 March 2014 (United Kingdom)
Image Courtesy: Fox Searchlight