*Apologies for lateness of the review, essays took priority once more* You can smell a Wes Anderson film a mile away. From the miniature set deigns, to colourful costuming, spot on production design, and meticulous actions and camera movements; a movie courtesy of Anderson is something entirely unique, and equally polarizing. Not everyone is a fan of the man, with his film usually proving divisive among critics, with many of them seemingly refusing to outright praise the auteur, falling on the likes of four stars many times, seemingly unwilling to commit to the full marks due to the limited universal appeal of the Anderson-verse. The only Anderson that I can recall being utterly unanimous in critical praise (and do correct me if I am wrong) was The Royal Tenenbaums, and to a lesser extent Moonrise Kingdom, the film that precedes The Grand Budapest Hotel. Now, with his eighth full length feature, Anderson does not look to be compromising his style in order to appeal to a broader audience anytime soon, and thank God for that.
The Grand Budapest Hotel takes place in the fictional European country of Zubrowka, where stands the Grand Budapest Hotel. An Author (Jude Law in flashback, Tom Wilkinson in 1985) recounts the story he was once told when visiting the once magnificent hotel in the 1960’s, a story told to him by Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who as a young man (played by newcomer Tony Revolori) was the Lobby Boy (known as Zero) serving under the much-loved concierge Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes). Moustafa tells the Author the story of the Hotel in the 1930’s, a period on the brink of war, which saw Gustave H framed for murder following the mysterious death of a rich heiress whom the famed concierge had a, shall we say, close relationship with, much to her family’s jealous rage. With his good name in jeopardy, Gustave calls upon the aid of his protege Zero to clear his name and claim what is rightfully his.
Anderson, while displaying a distinct visual style, is also known to experiment with narrative structure, and here is no different. He employs a Russain Doll structure to the proceedings, by which the story is being told to us through four different narrators; a girl reading a book in present day, Wilkinson’s author narrating said book, to his younger incarnation being told the story by Mr. Moustafa, to seeing Moustafa’s story visualized. Anderson aptly outlays the multiple layers of the tale in a coherent fashion, allowing the audience to established a fair degree of curiosity before we get to the meat of the film itself, namely the story of Gustave H.
Gustave H represents one of Anderson’s most endearing, interesting, and captivating characters that he has ever delivered to us. Sophisticated, polite, but also prone to moments of impatient outbursts, for which he is instantly apologetic for. He lives by his own code, opportunistic in his wooing of elderly wealthy spinsters, but caring none the less to their need for a special connection in their twilight years. Fiennes clearly revels in a role which allows him to cut loose and construct one of the best comedic characters of recent memory, adding to his great comic performances seen in the likes of In Bruges and Cemetery Junction. He also strikes a charming chord with his co-hort Revolori, who though at times seems intimidated by the immense talent around him, comes to form a fine double act with Fiennes. The two together convey a sense of genuine affection and easy-going, making their scenes together entertaining and purposeful.
Much of the rest of the characters within the film are very much classic Anderson cameo types; never hanging around too much to be considered a well formed character as such, but a welcome presence none the less. Willem Dafoe makes an impact in his usual creepy way, while much of the joy comes from the appearances that pop up across the never taxing 100 minute run-time. All of the Anderson regulars are present and correct in more pivotal roles than some, but that is yet another tell-tale sign of an Anderson picture; famous faces appearing and having fun whilst they are there, as well as fully inhabiting the spirit of the film in which they are contained.
Anderson’s meticulous nature when it comes to composing a shot has proven to be frustrating to some viewers, but I think it is a sign of a truly great auteur. Every shot in an Anderson film is completely symmetrical, which I just find utterly fascinating. The commitment it must take to align each shot, every prop, and ensure every actor hits their mark spot on is a sign of an auteur who is nothing short of a master of his chosen form. The same can be said for the camera movement as well as framing; every movement is planned to allow the proceedings to flow in a slick fashion that feels fresh and spirited despite its meticulously structured nature.
Anderson’s weakness has arguably be in his scripts, often offering up too many oddball characters to truly connect with, or not developing certain relationships enough in order for them to payoff the way he intends them to. Grand Budapest does have a strong central relationship, but the supporting characters are much weaker than they were in Moonrise Kingdom. Where Anderson’s film comes alive is in its attention to an alternative history, reflecting Pre-World War Two tensions, amounting to a rather poignant finale. Unfortunately that finale is diluted by a rather scrappy means of tying up the layered narrative. The film also finds Anderson at his most sinister since The Life Aquatic, with some surprising dark touches that while daring can be a bit uncomfortable and somewhat out of place. It doesn’t stop Grand Budapest from being a ridiculously entertaining caper that stands shoulder to should with some of Anderson’s best.