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The Grand Budapest Hotel

April 16, 2016

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Director: Wes Anderson
Actors: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham

Synopsis: Aged hotel owner, Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), recounts the story of the Grand Budapest Hotel in its famed inter-war years. In particular, he references the bond between his younger self (Tony Revolori) and the hotel’s legendary concierge, Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), and how their friendship was fostered when Gustave provoked the ire of the family of Madame D (Tilda Swinton) – who had bequeathed him a famous painting in her will.

Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel is certainly Wes Anderson’s most refined and distinctive work to date. Not only do his hugely iconic cinematographic and design predilections receive their most textured exhibition yet, but he twins a narrative sentiment so perfectly to that gentle delicacy of aesthetic: in fact, Zero’s final ode to Gustave H could almost stand as motto for Anderson’s own sensibility, “I think his world had vanished long before he entered it – but I will say: he certainly sustained the illusion with a marvellous grace!”

As seems to be a common facet with the appreciation of many of Anderson’s films, it almost takes three or four viewings to fully assimilate and luxuriate in the richness and dexterity of the world he has created: the sight gags, the gorgeous little design motifs, the wryer than wry snippets of narration. In The Grand Budapest Hotel, the writing in particular is absolutely exquisite, especially important to a story that is all about a sense of nostalgia for etiquette, eloquence and the value of the written word. Gustave H’s fondness for romantic or epic poetry is a running gag throughout the film, and there are other, innumerable lines that stand out – my personal favourite being when the ‘Author’ (as incarnated by Jude Law) describes his reasons for being holed up in the hotel as a result of a deliriously droll case of “Scribe’s Fever”!

As mentioned previously, Gustave H is the film’s central figure, the film’s “code hero”, and surely a proxy for Anderson’s own sensibilities. He’s a gorgeously written character and is supremely well brought to life by Ralph Fiennes. Fiennes gets the character’s vanity and pomposity spot on (but there’s also the humbleness and gallows self-deprecation too). Gustave’s reputation as the “most liberally perfumed man I have ever known” is a lovely recurring joke throughout the film, echoing minor peccadilloes of characters from other Anderson films such as the brothers’ comical reliance on DIY medication in The Darjeeling Limited.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is unquestionably a work of intense richness. Again, repeat viewings reward appreciation of Anderson’s epic level of detail: from the scar of Mexico on Agatha’s cheek, and numerous epically choreographed sequences (particularly effective is the one where Jopling stalks Kovacs through the streets of Lutz), to the whole piece being embalmed in a refulgent haze of pastel pink – mirroring the ‘red’ palette of The Royal Tenebaums and the ‘yellows’ of Bottle Rocket. It’s also a majestically filmed piece with Anderson exacting great mileage out of the Grand Budapest Hotel’s spatial properties through zany tracking shots which reveal the chaos of Gustave and Zero’s roles, to the colossal sense of loneliness that emits from when The Writer is holed up with an aged Zero in the dilapidated Sixties’ version of the hotel.

On first viewing, I must confess – although I basked in the film’s style – I struggled to warm to the story and saw the work as a little more than an extended caper movie, but on repeat viewing, it’s easier to distinguish the huge undertow of melancholy, ruin and elegy that courses through the film. The conceit of having the film refracted through four stories-within-stories – rather than distancing the emotion – actually beautifully thematises the idea of nostalgia and storytelling as part of our balm of remembrance. (April 2016)

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