Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwarzman, Léa Seydoux, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson, Tony Revolori

Director: Wes Anderson

Synopsis: Ralph Fiennes joins Wes Anderson’s inner circle of actors as M. Gustave H., the concierge of a resort in the mountains of the fictional European province of Zubrowka. On the brink of WWII, The Grand Budapest Hotel follows the madcap adventure of Gustave and his protégé Zero as they reap the rewards and repercussions of Gustave’s affaire de coeur with the wealthy (and recently deceased) Madame D. Framed for her murder, Gustave must clear his name, save his inheritance, and get himself and Zero back to their governance at the Grand Budapest – in one piece.

Reviewer’s Rating: 4/5 Reels


The Grand Budapest Hotel is a snow globe of whimsy characteristic to its auteur. The metaphor can be taken at face value: the miniaturized scene of the elaborate hotel sits on a European mountainside with vest-pocket funiculars chugging up and down its snowy slopes. Beyond that, the viewer observes Wes Anderson’s mad little dioramic universe through three different timelines shot in three different aspect ratios, respectively. A girl in a cemetery, present-day, reads about the Grand Budapest in an author’s memoirs (2.35:1). Within the book’s pages, the author (Jude Law) reports the history of the hotel as told to him by Zero Moustafa, the owner, in the 1960s (1.85:1). Gustave and Zero’s escapade that dominates the majority of the modest screen time is set circa 1932 (1.33:1). The removed degree of perspective captures the hotel at the pinnacle of its glory, like a memory behind glass.

M. Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), the dashing protagonist and concierge of the GBH, is just as timeless. He exudes charm, profanity, and L’Air de Panache in liberal amounts. Fiennes holds the spotlight for both the audience and the exclusive clientele of withering blonde dowagers that his character caters to. Whereas Zero (Tony Revolori) often assumes the role of the catalyst/sidekick, Gustave is the active force in the film. He drives the madcap events of the plotline on a meticulous concierge schedule. The same impeccable timing allows Fiennes to hand out punch lines and “darling”s to pseudo-Nazis and prison convicts without overplaying the delivery of performance that might be expected of the worldly Gustave’s character.

Like its predecessors, the latest of the Wes Anderson films threatens to induce a stupor in the audience by its distractingly excellent aesthetics. The amount of symmetry from the combined forces of Anderson and cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman is almost as ridiculous as the storyline. The camera movements are effectively used and repeated to show reaction and humor (whip pans, long dolly shots). Adam Stockhausen’s lavish production design speaks for itself in the bold color patterns throughout the film. A particularly breathtaking scene (in terms of visuals, but also in suspense) takes place in a museum as Madame D’s lawyer/executor Deputy Kovacs (Jeff Goldblum) runs through various rooms to escape a cold-blooded assassin.

Anderson makes sure to shake things up before the audience becomes too enraptured with the staggering amount of visual detail. The pace of the story gradually escalates: from Gustave stealing his rightful inheritance from Madame D (a Renaissance painting titled Boy with Apple), to Gustave and Co. breaking out of jail, to Gustave and Zero pursuing the assassin in a simultaneously droll and high-stakes chase scene, and finally a massive shootout in the Grand Budapest itself. By the end, the audience is chewing on their popcorn buckets in anxiety of which character is going to lose their head, extremities, or housecat next. Consistent with Anderson’s whimsical storytelling, there is a lot of planting and subtle payoff.

Multiple layers of retrospect, through the different narrators, infuse an air of nostalgia bordering on melancholy throughout the film. Though Gustave’s antics and the absence of his character background do not leave much room for depth, the relationship between him and Zero provides most of the endearing moments in the film. Zero’s sentimentality is best expressed in the 1960’s timeline, when he is portrayed as a lonely character who still clings onto the washed-out remains of the Hotel Budapest. The film’s setting invites darker themes of war and sometimes macabre violence, but the simple sincerity of characters like Gustave, Zero, and Agatha creates a juxtaposition of flippancy and decadence. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a chocolate-coated oddity. It leaves the audience with the self-awareness that they are merely hotel guests in Anderson’s dreamlike world, and no matter how long they stay, they will never quite decipher it.

By Hannah Chu

{ 2 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. Hannah - this is a seriously wonderful review! Admittedly, as an Anderson fan (those visuals!), I am still waiting excitedly to see the film. Your review perfectly balances insightful comments on both the plot and stylistic/visual elements. If anything, your review made me even more excited to venture to a theatre and immerse myself in Anderson's world. Your attention to the characters and their unique quirks is appreciated, and I now can't wait to see what outlandish things Anderson has them do. I specifically love your depiction of The Grand Budapest as "...a chocolate-coated oddity". There was never a more appropriate phrase to describe an Anderson film. Great review!

    -Mariah Ortiz

  2. Hannah, thank you for this review. I, too, am a seasoned Wes Anderson fan and have also not yet seen this film. Through your words, it is clear that this film will join its predecessors with the utmost of ease and artistic merit. Setting aside your impressive vocabulary, your understanding of the film making process (shots, angles, camera, etc.) helps to fill out the reviews glimpse into the film. I must admit, in the trailers I have seen for the film, I was greatly confused as to the actual plot line of the film. Your brief and necessarily vague description of the films cinematic structure is greatly appreciated. As I move nearer to a season of free time, I cant wait to experience this film with the guidance and revelation of your review in mind. Great job!

    -Ryan Stone


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