The Grand Budapest Hotel – A (spoiler free) Review

March 15, 2014 12:32 pm

I have not seen many Wes Anderson films, I will admit. But whilst you load up your ammunition of derisive looks and low estimations of my cinema palate’s worth, allow me to offer that this enabled me to watch his latest offering The Grand Budapest Hotel without any expectation.

And love it.

I had only seen 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums, sequestered on a low sofa sitting too close for comfort with an ex-girlfriend and having to crane my neck towards the paltry audio-visual apparatus offered. All these factors lead me to not really being that impressed with the stylised family drama. This negative association with Anderson flicks was duly discarded in the opening frames of The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Tom Wilkinson as Author

A brief opening credits scene shows a petite girl walking across a snowy backdrop with big black shoes. She walks past clusters of interesting people before settling in front of the bust of an author clutching his novel that shares the film’s title. The bust evolves into Tom Wilkinson who sets up the narrative form, with a comic beat that sets the tone, of the next 100 minutes: a story-within-a-story(-within-a-story).

The Author (Wilkinson) sets up the fictional European state of Zubrowka, circa 1960, where the hotel is located on a mountain of lavish pink before updating to the present day mausoleum grey. He reverts to Jude Law, a younger form of himself, who meets with the enigmatic Mr Moustafa, portrayed with a quiet authority by F. Murray Abraham who narrates the story of how he came to own the eponymous hotel.

Zero (Revolori) and M. Gustave (Fiennes)

The luxurious colours return as Moustafa takes us to the 1930s and tells the story of the rambunctious hotel concierge with a taste of the old and rich Monsieur Gustave – the predecessor of the current concierge Monsieur Jean – animatedly played with impeccable comic timing by Ralph Fiennes. He loves his job and ensures that his staff love theirs and the hotel. Monsieur Gustave befriends the quiet yet ambitious lobby boy called Zero, played by 17 year old newcomer Tony Revolori, and forms an unlikely friendship of great chemistry with memorable exchanges.

They are contrasted by the antagonistic duo of the film are Dimitri, the son and heir of Madame Desgoffe-und-Taxis, played by Adrien Brody and his “private inquiry agent” – which is just a euphemism for hitman – the leather-clad, motorcycle riding Jopling by a mostly silent and chilling Willem Dafoe. There is one scene in the final act that had myself and the audience audibly whimpering as a character seemed doomed to offed by him.

Anderson’s directing and Robert Yeoman’s cinematography provide an incredibly stylised look to the film. Bright, sharp colours, quick cuts to shots without the ever-popular “shaky cam” complete with a script at home with one-liners as it is with monologues. It is a temptation to say that the aesthetics of the film are distinctly Anderson, not because I know so many of his films to recognise them, but because they are specific to his renown gamut: the miniature sets, the chapter headings, the narrative voice-overs and the differing aspect ratios.

This is where the content on screen threatens to detract from the viewer’s pleasure. There is an intention behind every image and frame, a meticulousness that betrays an overzealous adherence to style. This straddling creates the niggling thought at the back of your mind as to whether you are being misled by the style of the thing that you forget or forgive its substance. But do not take my word for it alone, go and see it for yourself to determine which side of the fence you stand.

All of the cinematic tricks and “smart” filmmaking aside, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a film that does have an emotional core that keeps you engaged and immersed. Comedy that keeps you on a dial from chuckling to raucous laughter and cameos to put a smile on your face, Wes Anderson serves up this quirky, intelligent offering that is sure to impress. The melancholic, more sedate work in The Royal Tenenbaums is nowhere to be seen as a pantomimic set of events that unfolds seemingly self-aware of its outrageous nature but simultaneously damn proud of it. However, if you are someone who does not like their films fully aware of their own intelligence – without displaying a  shred of self-consciousness – then I would advise you to stay away from this.

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