Genre: Comedy, Drama
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law
A heightened sense of expectation washes over you as you sit down to watch Wes Anderson’s latest whimsical wonder. Directing his 8th feature film, Anderson the auteur has developed an assured style of imaginative storytelling throughout his already illustrious career, effortlessly transporting audiences to new worlds based firmly in our own reality. Whether you love or loathe his previous efforts, every one of Anderson’s films deserve to be appreciated for the ways he innovatively blends various visual styles with thematic genres, pushing the very boundaries of the cinematic medium to its limits.
With that in mind, one can’t help but think as the credits begin to roll on what is debatably Anderson’s finest feature thus far, that The Grand Budapest Hotel is the film that Anderson has been building up to ever since he first made the original Bottle Rocket short; that it’s the movie he was born to make. So intoxicating an experience it is, that you can’t help but feel a sharp pang of disappointment as it ends. Anderson has, of course, been able to fully immerse you in the worlds that live within his mind before, but The Grand Budapest Hotel feels particularly special; its enthusiastic charm and hypnotic milieu are a celebration of cinema itself, with Anderson giving a royal salute through his own freedom of expression.
Using a narration device to tell his tale, Anderson plunges us in to the land of Zubrowka, a fictitious Eastern Bloc country that was once ravaged by war. Here we find the eponymous hotel that has fallen into disrepair. Guests to the hotel are scarce, but an author staying there encounters the hotel’s owner, who tells him the story of how he came to acquire ownership of the hotel. A story that takes us back to The Grand Budapest’s heyday, when it was run by devoted concierge Gustave H. What follows is an extraordinary tale involving the theft of a priceless painting and the battle for a family fortune.
Even by Anderson’s standards it’s an extraordinary tale, balancing a narrative that combines comedy, thrills & tragedy without ever loosing focus on the characters at its core. Anderson’s previous films, notably The Royal Tenenbaums, have proved the writer/director’s confidence in juggling large ensembles and The Grand Budapest Hotel contains his biggest to date. Yet as a writer, Anderson shows such love for his characters that, even at a minimal 99 minute running length, he is able to give each one more than a single moment to shine.
To their credit, each member of the cast lives up to the material. Just as he was in The Life Aquatic, William Defoe is a notable highlight; his full-length leather jacket, darkened eyes & brass knuckles embodying the image of exaggerated Germanic fascism his character represents. It’s wonderful to see Lea Seydoux in a limited but witty role as a housemaid. While newcomer Tony Revolori manages to prove himself an actor worthy of personifying Anderson’s trademark characteristics of a young & naïve intellect, as Gustave’s lobby boy and confidant Zero.
However, while every actor shines in his or her own unique way, Ralph Fiennes remains the film’s real spark. Flawed, fantastic, camp, and confident, Gustave H. is like no character we have ever seen in an Anderson film before. His regularly raucous indiscretions with older female guests are not something to be lauded; yet his calm and inviting persona makes him an eminently loveable centerpiece to match the outrageousness of the story. Once again, the script must be applauded here – Fiennes delivering the strikingly intellectual dialogue with an eminent splendor to match the lavishness of Gustave’s attire.
As a director, Anderson has always shown a keen awareness that film is first and foremost a visual based art form and The Grand Budapest Hotel is undoubtedly his most beautiful creation. Generally deciding to forego the standard widescreen image, Anderson captures every shot – be they close-up, tracking or landscape – with an artistic precision that brings to life this rich and vivid world. Anna Pinnock’s remarkable set-design, particularly in the interiors of The Grand Budapest, is outstanding; creating a sense of awe and grandeur that exquisitely captures the 1930s setting.
Anderson’s love for cinema truly comes out in his vision. His speedy pace is complemented with wonderfully eccentric visual effects, particularly during a high-speed ski chase. His longtime collaboration with cinematographer Robert Yeoman is without doubt one of contemporary cinemas finest; just look at the way the two of them meticulously capture The Grand Budapest’s interiors, even stirring memories of Kubrick’s Overlook during later extended tracking shots.
Such sumptuous experiences are what going to the pictures and seeing a film in all its glory on the big screen is all about. Like the exemplary service of Gustave H. himself, The Grand Budapest Hotel is an unrivaled pleasure that you will have you craving a return visit.