Director: Wes Anderson
Writer: Wes Anderson
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori and Saoirse Ronan
Wes Anderson films are some of the most magical and joyous experiences you can have in a movie theatre. Over his 8 films and 17-year-long career his unique filmatic techniques have been crafted into a quirky and distinguishable style. It’s a style that has been analysed, critiqued and regularly made fun of by film critics and fans alike. But for me, every new Anderson film is a great event, and I could hardly wait for his latest, the raucous adventure The Grand Budapest Hotel.
The film follows the on goings of the eponymous hotel and its many residents throughout the years. It’s an iconic and highly esteemed establishment in the fictional alpine country of Zubrowka, during a time of political and social change. Essentially, the film’s narrative is a story within a story within a story where the tales are recounted in a novel written by The Author (played as an older version and younger version by Tom Wilkinson and Jude Law respectively). We meet the latter during the late 1960s, when the hotel has become a dilapidated institution, evoking the remnants of the Communist regime of the time.
The Author is facing severe writers block and decides to relax in the hotel’s solitude for peace and inspiration, but with a lack of success. However, he stumbles into the acquaintance with the Hotel’s elderly owner Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) and is immediately fascinated with the story of how he came to own the establishment.
Over dinner Mr. Moustafa recounts his story to The Author, starting with his employment during the 1930s as the Hotel’s lobbyboy under the watchful eye of head concierge, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). Zero (now played by Tony Revolori) is taken under the wing of Gustave, and the two form a solid friendship. When he’s not obsessing over the upkeep and prestige of the hotel, Gustave is “entertaining” its many elderly guests, mainly consisting of aging widows. One such widow, Madame D (an unrecognisable but extraordinary Tilda Swinton), takes a particular interest in Gustave and proclaims her love for him. But a month later, she winds up dead, suspected murdered. She leaves Gustave a priceless painting in her will and this makes Gustave a prime suspect in her murder. What follows is a non-stop ride of excitement and high jinks, as Gustave and Zero are on the run from the law to clear their names.
Anderson is one of the most beloved filmmakers in the world; his fan base stretches across generations and cultures. Although his films are usually very American, with The Grand Budapest Hotel he has presented us with his first European set film and also his first true period piece.
His last film, 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom, was a quirky romantic comedy set in the 60’s focusing on two 12-year-olds in love. The film was a huge critical and commercial success, but rather on the small scale. The Grand Budapest Hotel is the complete opposite; it’s so fast paced and packed with action and excitement that there is truly never a dull moment. It’s definitely his most “epic” and complex film with intricate plot details that entwine so carefully with one another.
Another thing that makes The Grand Budapest Hotel epic is its cast. The film offers a who’s who of Anderson’s favourite collaborators and some amazing new ones to add to his wacky family. Standout performances include Saoirse Ronan as Zero’s spirited girlfriend Agatha, Adrien Brody as Madame D’s arrogant son Dmitri, Willem Dafoe as his psychotic right-hand man and Edward Norton as the sympathising chief of police with a truly show stopping moustache. Plus there are tiny but hilarious cameos from Anderson’s best buddies, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson and Bill Murray.
Like all of Anderson’s films, the sets offer a visual delight of vibrant saturated colours and intricate details; the film’s candy-coloured interiors are contrasted with its vast and desolate exteriors. The film was shot on location in Germany and the extraordinary detailing of quaint villages, barren landscapes, soaring mountains ranges and grandness of the hotel is truly spectacular.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is really a best of all of Anderson’s most recognisable and well-honed elements, yet it’s probably one of his least flashy and stylised films. There are no slow-mo tracking shots, no Kinks or Rolling Stones on the soundtrack and he even relaxes on his ultra obsessive symmetry. Yet the obsessive colour palates and themes surrounding family and friendship still remain. Conversely, the film is probably the most extreme Anderson film ever, as it features great amounts of violence, sex and profanities. However, most of these things are only shocking because we rarely see them in his movies.
The film has everything going for it: an extraordinary cast lead by a heartfelt and brave performance from Ralph Fiennes, combined with a visual spectacular and action-packed story, surely it will be rewarded come awards season next year. If Wes Anderson was looking to create his magnum opus, his most grand and epic film yet, I think The Grand Budapest Hotel may just be his masterpiece.