“a daring, abundantly creative flight of fancy and the only downside is you’ll be sad to leave the cinema”
Wes Anderson is truly a directors director, a master of his craft whose fingerprints are smudged across every aspect of the movie making process; from camera to costume, from music to editing. He is a man with a grand vision and his latest offering The Grand Budapest Hotel is without a doubt his most confident work to date.
Naysayers of Anderson may well find fault with the impish auteur, his films all seem to exist in the same offbeat and colourful universe occupied by a host of absurd, deadpan and darkly humoured characters and can seem a little inaccessible for those who prefer their comedy with a little more Vince Vaughn.
Moonrise Kingdom, his previous film was a pleasingly isolated and gorgeously rendered Anderson idyll but lacked any sense of threat. Although highly stylised, the best Anderson films have a vein of darkness running through them, death and loss being a major theme in a number of his pictures.
So to The Grand Budapest, a sumptuously realised depiction of a fictional hotel nestled amongst the snowy peaks of the equally fictional country, Zubrowka, and the centre piece for a narrative that spans several decades, a cavalcade of familiar faces and some mouth watering pastries.
Working our way back through history, the story begins with Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the reclusive owner of the Budapest who makes the acquaintance of a writer (Jude Law) staying in the hotel. Over dinner, Mr Moustafa reveals precisely how he came to be the owner of such a substantial property and so we jump back in time once more to the 1930’s, the heyday of the Grand Budapest. Here we meet young Zero Moustafa, lobby boy at the hotel in the employ and under the tutelage of Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) the camp, highly organised, extremely perfumed concierge with an eye for the older ladies in his keep. When one of his lovers, Madame D (Tilda Swilton in almost unrecognizable prosthetics) passes away, she bequeaths to Gustave a priceless painting much to the outrage of the her family. Deciding instead to steal the painting, Gustave and Zero set in motion a series of events which finds them on the run, evading the law as well as a particularly nasty german assassin, Jopling (a deliciously villainous Willem Dafoe).
When you watch a Wes Anderson movie, you wish you could inhabit the world he presents to us, every single detail has been poured over, every object sits where it sits for a reason and every frame has been mathematically choreographed to achieve mise en scene perfection. The set alone is something to be marvelled at, as in similar introduction to the characters in The Royal Tenenbaums where the camera tracks through the house, or the Belafonte set in Life Aquatic, there is an entrancing sense of fluidity to the film and Anderson knows exactly how to keep an audience engaged, not once does a shot linger, or a conversation stutter. The film whips and pans and tracks to a regimented beat that Gustave himself would approve of. Anderson even manages to throw in a bit of film history, though you may not notice it. With each time period Anderson has brilliantly adopted the correct aspect ratio to match, for instance when we travel back to the 1930’s (which is a large chunk of the film) we’re actually watching it in 4:3.
Credit where credit is due however, the film would be nothing without its assembled cast; a mixture of old and new, with long time Anderson collaborators such as Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Bob Balaban, Adrien Brody to name a few sharing the screen with the likes of Jude Law, Saoirse Ronan and of course Ralph Fiennes. Making his debut for Anderson, Fiennes steals the limelight as the finicky, occasionally oblivious concierge whose bond with Zero makes for one of the most entertaining and genuinely heart warming cinematic pairings. Who knows how much impact Fiennes had on the development of his character, but he is without a doubt a genius creation. Fiennes delivers every line with impeccable comedic timing and one can’t help but smile when he refers to his snarling prison inmates as ‘darling’ during one scene.
As Wes Anderson movies go, this one is damned near perfect and should silence even the most ardent of Anderson critics. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a daring, abundantly creative flight of fancy and the only downside is you’ll be sad to leave the cinema and emerge into the real world afterwards.
About the Author
Oliver Hayes is a contributor to TFM.