Wes Anderson is one of the greatest illusion-makers of all-time. He doesn’t create movies -- but rather entire worlds with distinct sensibility and dazzling visual style. The 48-year-old Texan is one of the few filmmakers in modern cinema with the ability to articulate such idiosyncratic visions. Every frame of The Grand Budapest Hotel can be dissected for hours upon hours.
The film is a colorful and delicious confection to the point where you may have the urge to lick the screen. The film opens to a young lady visiting a courtyard, gazing up at a statue of “The Author” whilst holding his memoir entitled, "The Grand Budapest Hotel." We start out in 1985 in a grey sky post-Communist town. “The Author” recalls the time in the late 60’s when his younger self (Jude Law) stayed at the title hotel. At the time of his stay, the legendary hotel was falling into obsolescence. As time goes on, he becomes acquainted with its elegant and mysterious owner, Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham). Law is curious as to why the immensely rich Moustafa chooses to accompany himself alone on his visits, and insists on sleeping in a room no bigger than a closet.
Moustafa, acknowledging “The Author's” own work with great respect, decides to invite him to dinner to satisfy his curiosity. Over the course of the meal, Moustafa reminisces about his first days at the hotel where he worked as a lobby boy under the direction of Monsieur Gustave H (the impeccable Ralph Fiennes). Gustave, the charismatic, mustached, purple suited concierge of the hotel, is a devoted servant to the guests. He's also a mercurial and dominant leader to his staff. He corrects their slightest lapse in conduct and lectures them constantly during meal time. M. Gustave is of a higher level service than most that surround him, shaping the young Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) in the art of understanding what a guest wants before they even realize it themselves. Elegance is an art form to him. His favorite scent is “Eau de Panache” which can linger long after he has gone. He’s a lover of poetry and a ludicrous gigolo, constantly sleeping with the elderly women (and possibly men) of the hotel. It’s a masterful role, and Fiennes sensationally nails every comic and dramatic nuance with much grace and self discipline.
Gustave's troubles begin when one of the wealthiest of his lovers, Madame Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe und Taxis (Tilda Swinton), dies. She leaves a priceless painting to him instead of her vile children. It’s the murder of Madame Celine and the stolen Renaissance painting that puts both Gustave and Zero on the run from her son Dmitri (Adam Brody), his dangerous henchman Jopling (William Dafoe) and the cops led by Inspector (Edward Norton.) As the films progresses, a peak of hilarity hits when Gustave (along with a tattooed Harvey Keitel) decides to escape prison with the help of Zero and his love Agatha (Saoirse Ronan). The acting between Ronan and Revolori is pure and endearing. On the surface of this film, there is the comedy. But what Anderson is able to do is create a sense of escapism while also separating the comedy from the tragedy. The film never loses sight of the reality that the life of Old World leisure will soon be washed away as war and history marches forward.
In a scene when Gustave and Zero are being harassed aboard a train by the Zubrowkan police (equivalent of the SS), Anderson never fails to empathize with those innocent outsiders such as Zero. His inspiration for the film came from the writings of Stefan Zweig -- a contemporary novelist and playwright who, being an Austrian Jew, watched his country fall to Hitler. The question of if we as an audience are supposed to take any of that seriously will vary among the film’s admirers and Anderson-lovers alike. But one thing is for certain, Anderson has stretched himself as a director and screenwriter admirably.
The Grand Budapest Hotel isn’t really about plot but rather about the characters that inhabit it. The talent of the ensemble cast is incredible from top to bottom. We see cameos from the great Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, and Owen Wilson (all actors recycled in Anderson's films regularly). Fiennes’ performance however is easily the most vital and dynamic piece of the film -- which could be compared to that of Gene Hackman’s role in The Royal Tenenbaums. Full of gusto with incredible articulation and vigor, Fiennes went on to receive a Golden Globe nomination for his role as Monsieur Gustave. With help from the incredible production design of Adam Stockhausen (Moonrise Kingdom) and cinematographer Robert Yeoman, Anderson has created films and worlds that have not only provoked, but also inspired.
The movie's philosophy is eloquently summed up by Gustave himself: "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, f it."
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