4 March 2014

Film Review - The Grand Budapest Hotel

Comedy, Drama
Fox Searchlight
Rating: 15
Release Date:
7th March 2014 (UK)
Wes Anderson
Tony Revolori, Ralph Fiennes, Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe

A writer does not find their story, instead the story finds its writer. A fresh concept for Wes Anderson's new film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, but ultimately his most ambitious.

The complex structure starts off with a young girl opening up a novel – in the cemetery where its author is buried- named after the eponymous hotel. Cut to 1985, where the acclaimed writer, played by Tom Wilkinson, recalls his stay within the hotel of the film/novel in 1968. Now performed by Jude Law, the nameless writer meets and dines with the establishment owner, Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who shares his personal memories of being a lobby boy during the hotel's heyday before Communism led to its demise. Cue 1932, Moustafa's tale conjures up a pink mansion, nestled within the snow-capped hills of the fictional European country of Zubrowka. From there, a young Moustafa- known as Zero (newcomer Tony Revolori)- is trained under the efficient and titular concierge, Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). With an admiration of the very elderly and wealthy Madame D (Tilda Swinton), her sudden and curious death (murder?) and bequeathing of the priceless painting, Boy With Apple, snowballs into a caper consisting of heists, screwball set-pieces, prison breaks and shootouts.

Immense in its staging, the film packages all of Anderson's recognisable directorial flourishes on a remarkable scale. Although part of Anderson's recognition comes from the use of meticulous framing devices and distinctive colour schemes being combined with lead characters who are in some way fractured or grieving, it is obvious that the intricate design of the fictional doll-house setting of 1930s Zubrowka totally engulfs these characters and any sense of their development. With the intense pink and red colour scheme of the hotel itself, alongside layered and skilful choreography throughout, the huge cast of characters can't help but become mere paper-thin caricatures, within an extraordinarily detailed picture-book fantasy. Although many detractors of Anderson would argue this has been standard practice throughout the director's career, he actually uses this to his advantage. Unlike previous works within his writing and directing canon, Anderson abandons his particular motif of opening a book to a cast of characters, opting to focus on the process of how they are found. It's this idea which makes the moments within the hotel's decaying walls in 1968 particularly interesting and thoughtful. The dinner which the nameless writer and older Zero share injects the film with the appropriate thematic weight which could have gone un-noticed within the melee of the 30s set action. With the idea of how memories and recollections can dissolve with the passage of time, Anderson's typical use of nostalgia looms over the film. Within the walls of this once fine hotel there are now only ceiling cracks and scattered memories.

This section of the film allows Anderson to get away with being caught up in constructing lavish set-pieces, rather than actually developing his characters. Made up of a humongous cast of regulars and new faces alike, what ultimately separates them from each other is brief screen-time and an amusing mannerism. Ralph Fiennes's performance of Gustave may be entertaining with his equally eloquent and filthy world view, however, his character holds no sense of memorable depth when compared to Anderson's previous creations, such as Max Fisher (Rushmore) or Steve Zissou (The Life Aquatic). Yet, this is why the film could be Anderson's most ambitious work. Though a tad slight, the madcap qualities of the characters make for charming creations. A scene in which all concierges from adjoining Grand Hotels assemble to save Zero and Gustave is not only humorous in its presentation of hospitality being an institution, but one of the film's most memorable uses of screwball comedy with an ensemble cast (helped by Bill Murray and other Anderson veterans making an appearance). Combined with the fast pacing and tone of the overall story, the excessive quaintness and imaginative presentation does make moments of melancholy surprisingly effective. With the murmer and slight reminders of the war behind all the action, it brings a chilling sobriety into the story. Although Anderson has always created worlds which are not of our own – Zubrowka is no exception – he handles the barbaric nature of war by saying nothing about it, only showing the destruction it left behind.
Within the amusement of the re-counting of these memories, the barbaric notion of war does introduce a thoughtfully heartfelt sensibility. Like an old shoebox filled with various mementoes, Anderson uses this relic of a hotel hotel to establish how certain surprises within an individual's lifetime can go un-noticed. It's only with the recollection of conflict on a much grander scale that you understand the senseless grief and bitter life-lessons that it could bestow on somebody as apparently insignificant as a lobby-boy.

Similar to the old ruin of the Grand Budapest, Anderson's eighth feature may not be completely perfect at first glance. However, the tales buried within it unveil a timeless joy, completely enthralling you before dragging you back into reality.


David Darley

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