Movie Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

March 14, 2014
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The Grand Budapest HotelWritten & Directed by Wes Anderson

More of a pantomime-style English farce than anything ever composed by Georges Feydeau, Stefan Zweig or Blake Edwards, which it is being compared to, this fantastic comedy is the Wes Anderson masterpiece I’ve been awaiting for the fifteen years since Rushmore was released.

As always, the fantasy world Anderson ‘recreates’ is detailed to the point of spookiness and is completely convincing. In the brilliant, albeit discomfortingly eccentric and skittishly realized films he’s made since Rushmore (1999), often brilliant character performances and plot get sucked into a kaleidoscopic vortex where the crafted forms and architecture—every painting on the wall, each shiny piece of cutlery, grandma’s mustache, each ornate parlor, the gathered cumulocirrus in the sky— and often overcome the simplicity of the story he’s trying to tell. There’s brilliant stuff in The Royal Tenenbaums (2002), The Life Aquatic (2005), The Darjeeling Limited (2010), The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2010) and Moonrise Kingdom (2012), but something always goes AWOL. Style was always chewing out the scenery from under substance as, somehow, Wes Anderson became the auteur/director’s version of Meryl Streep.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Fortunately, Anderson has made the necessary adjustments this time. The Grand Budapest Hotel is set in the fading fictional milieu of a luxury hotel in a ridiculous central European country, Zubrowka. This subtle milieu-– the fruit, Anderson says, of his having submerged himself in the fictional Viennese world of Stefan Zweig—is a luxury hotel/spa/sanatorium in a town of hidden healing springs, fully booked by mysterious aristocrats, invalids, aristocratic wannabes and gigolos.

The movie depends on its sexy mustachioed star, the equine-eyed Ralph Fiennes, who finally excises the ghost of the Nazi Armin Göthe he played so perfectly in Schindler’s List. As Monsieur Gustave, the mythically celebrated concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel, Fiennes gives a performance of comic timing which exudes both a remarkably subtle life force and a command of body language up there with Charlie Chaplin.  A force of nature, Monsieur Gustave is so much a fixture of the place, a mighty edifice in the mountains, that he sort of becomes it, part and parcel of the giant echoing lobby and a dining hall that is as big as a stadium.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Gustave is a handsome, hard-working, persnickety snob, sometimes gay, sometimes straight, who adores the beauty of his human habitat and works his staff of underlings with a sadistic exactitude. Dressed in a ridiculous, purple uniform to match the hotel décor, Gustave keeps up a compartmentalized series of relationships with the hotel clientele, and subordinates, a mixture of efféte, pseudo-Teutonic, heel-clicking correctness executed with a quasi drill-sergeant efficiency married to an air of deferential intimacy and honeyed familiarity with the hotel’s grander clientele. As good as gold, Fiennes nails Gustave so perfectly it’s chilling.

Gustave takes a shine to the hotel’s sparrow-like orphan lobby boy, Zero Moustafa. Beautifully played by a 17-year-old acting novice, Tony Revelori, Zero becomes a sort of sorcerer’s apprentice as he moves peripherally through every scene witnessing Gustave working his concierge’s magic.  I won’t be spoiling too much here but Gustave reveals the deep dark secret that has been instrumental in the hotel’s success: He is the servant/stud who solves the intimate problems of the hundreds of wealthy elderly grand-dames who frequent the hotel and have done for years. Turns out he is the great love of the blind, crusty and filthy-rich Madame D (Tilda Swinton). When she dies, Madame D leaves Gustave a priceless Renaissance portrait belonging to her family and things spiral into chaos as her jealous family, led by the wicked Dmitri (Adrien Brody) decide to disinherit and murder the concierge.

The burlesque of slapstick and ridiculousness which follows is about as relentless a series of laughs the Bagg man has had since the brilliant How High (2001) from the mind of Dustin Lee Abraham. The usual ensemble of brilliant friends, including actors Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzmann, is on song. As ever, Anderson’s worlds are always as complex as a Hieronymus Bosch tableau. Anderson and his cinematographer Robert D Yeoman execute a feast of rectilinear camera movement. The script, co-written by Anderson and his partner and collaborator Hugo Guinness is a scintillatingly witty piece of work. See it!

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