Directed by: Wes Anderson Written by: Stefan Zweig (inspired by the works of), Wes Anderson (story)
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric
Let me start with a health warning; if you are not a fan of Wes Anderson films, The Grand Budapest Hotel is unlikely to change your opinion of his work. There, I have saved you 5 minutes. For those who are fans, read on…
Inspired by Stefan Zweig’s stories in “The Society of the Crossed Keys” Wes Anderson’s latest cinematic outing concentrates on the lives of those living and working in the titular Grand Budapest Hotel. The story unfolds as a young woman reads a book written by a now-deceased great author. We flashback to an interview with said author, played by Tom Wilkinson who explains that many of his best stories have been as a result of anecdotes he has embellished rather than pure feats of imagination. Flashback again, and the author is now played by Jude Law who is a guest at The Grand Budapest Hotel, where he meets, and borrows a story from, Mr Mustafa, owner of the hotel. As Mr Mustafa tells his tale we flashback once more, and get to the meat of the tale, about the legendary some-time concierge of the hotel, Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes). The rest of the meandering tale takes in lost wills, murder, art robbery, cat death, marriage and over shadowing it all, the outbreak of war.
Gustave H. is a sexually ambiguous perfumed perfectionist, and lover of the older woman, a state of being that leads him to find himself acting as mentor to new lobby boy Zero and also at the centre of the noir drama which leads the pair into various high jinx. The antics that follow provide some great comedy, but also some emotional depth, which is something often lacking from a Wes Anderson picture. Taking notions which he started exploring in Moonrise Kingdom the real strength of The Grand Budapest Hotel comes in its view of relationships and its decidely modern, given its largely period setting, look at what constitutes family.
As you would expect from a Wes Anderson film, it is a visually stunning affair, using painted back drops, stop motion animation, elaborate sets and all manner of old-fashioned and new-fangled visual whimsy. The various incarnations of the hotel’s life each have their own distinct colour-pallette, mirrored in the characters wardrobes. The Grand Budapest in it’s heyday is a glorious candy-coloured confection on a snowy hillside, but as the 60’s arrives it takes on a distinctly Soviet bloc orange and brown hue. Indeed each of the 3 eras was also shot in a different ratio, giving it a true period feel. Each shot is set up with great care and owes more to (as with all of Anderson’s work) other cinematic auteurs such as George Melies, Fritz Lang and Ernst Lubitsch than it does to any of his contemporaries, paying heed to symmetrical shots and eschewing any sense of depth of field and realism in favour of a whimsical concoction that is all Anderson’s own. The action moves from Marx brothers-esque capering to some quite extreme violence, which all feels wonderfully out of place within the pastel coloured walls of the hotel. Realism this isn’t. But is realism why we go to the cinema?
The Grand Budapest Hotel is beautifully shot, and wonderfully acted, but there is so much to it it can become a muddle. The relationship between Zero (Tony Revolori) and Agatha (the always wonderful Saoirse Ronan) is introduced at lightening speed, and a macguffin which could have had real emotional impact is whipped by you so fast you barely notice it has happened. While The Grand Budapest Hotel has far more emotional depth than his previous films, Wes Anderson still keeps up such a pace that it is often difficult to really connect with his wonderfully quirky ensembles. When unpicked the multi-layered narrative is actually a tragedy, but the pace is such and the capers so well presented that it takes while after leaving the cinema for that to hit home. Much like in life, the characters are not explained, they just arrive fully-realised on screen, and we are left to follow them while our paths cross.
Anderson fans will be pleased to know there are cameos from many of his favourite cast members, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman and a fully silicone-make-up-encased outing for Tilda Swinton. That’s of course somehow leaving out Adrien Brody, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum… the list goes on and on.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is a beautifully packaged, candy-coloured tragicomic caper, but one which ultimately feels a little hollow.