The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel photo starrating-4stars.jpgThe Grand Budapest Hotel is a dazzling slice of enchantment. It’s a tale wrapped up in a tale wrapped up in a tale. Try and explicate the nested account and its convoluted evolution threatens to implode upon itself. I’ll admit the chronicle is, shall we say, meticulous?  Ok so naysayers might say tortured. If you‘re not already a Wes Anderson fan, this film won‘t change your mind. But for this aficionado of the auteur, the intricate set up was only the beginning of an exquisite yarn that had me captivated from the get-go.

We begin in the modern day with a young fan reading a book at the grave of a dead novelist. Zoom to 1985, the writer is played by Tom Wilkinson who recalls a time that he stayed at the hotel. We then flashback to 1968. That same writer is now Jude Law interacting with F. Murray Abraham as Mr. Zero Moustafa. As the hotel’s old owner, Moustafa reminisces about a time when the place was more opulent. Another flashback to a grander time, 1932 to be exact, where we meet the boyish Moustafa now played by Tony Revolori. The main narrative concerns the friendship that develops between M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), as the hotel’s respected concierge, and the youthful Moustafa who becomes his devoted protégé.

Have you marveled at the depth of acting talent on display? I’ve only barely begun to name-drop. Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Léa Seydoux, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson and Bill Murray are all present and accounted for. The latter’s presence in a Wes Anderson film shouldn’t be a surprise, yet his role as the concierge at Excelsior Palace, Grand Budapest’s rival hotel, was greeted with cheers of applause at my screening. Despite the expanded cast, everyone adds value. But I digress.

Wes Anderson has done a most noble thing. He has taken the fabric of a genuine reality and formed an alternate universe. His amalgamation alludes to history but manipulated to suit his romantic world. The Grand Budapest Hotel is located in the Republic of Zubrowka. I’d place the fictional European nation somewhere in the vicinity of Germany and Hungary. The proper saga begins in 1932, a year when elections in Germany would appoint Hitler as the head of government. A time between the two world wars, still several years before the outbreak of WW2, Yet Germany, Hitler, Nazis and Jews are never mentioned. The SS for example is actually the ZZ — the Zig-Zags. The director has carefully fashioned a drama set within his impressionist vision of a country on the brink of war and the results are intoxicating.

The plot of The Grand Budapest Hotel seemingly hinges on the fate of a priceless Renaissance painting. “Boy with Apple” is a key plot device credited to artist Johannes Van Hoytl the Younger, an entirely fictional construct. Once again Anderson’s attention to detail is impressive. The mannerist artwork is impressive in its own right, perhaps something attributed to Albrecht Dürer or Il Bronzino or Hans Holbein the Younger. I can’t decide which. At one point M. Gustave is bequeathed the valuable painting in the will of a wealthy old dowager who has died under mysterious circumstances. The objet d’art represents something over which everyone obsesses. When the canvas is removed from the wall, it’s replaced by a lewd watercolor that suggests Egon Schiele. It’s a hilarious visual joke. Ah but the piece isn’t the point at all. Its existence is really the MacGuffin if you will — an unimportant bit of nonsense deliberately constructed in the same playful spirit as everything else in Wes Anderson’s universe.

The composition of a scene has always taken precedence to actual story in a Wes Anderson picture, but here even more so. The ornate milieu is home to an offbeat comedy that focuses on a missing painting. But what makes the narrative so affecting isn’t the future of the portrait. It’s the fastidiously created world in which our characters live. I could spend pages explicating the distended cast. In the interest of brevity, I’ll merely disclose numero uno: Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave. As the hotel’s concierge, he is nattily attired and consistently perfumed. Then there is the hotel itself, a beautiful storybook creation that is the soul of the film. The stunning art nouveau palace is highlighted by a funicular and rows of columns. An edifice photographed with an eye for detail not seen since Stanley Kubrick’s ode to the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. Notice the red lacquer walls in the elevator or the pink pastels of countess Madame D.’s suite. Naturally the architecture is the director’s vision but it’s flawlessly presented through the work of cinematographer and frequent Wes Anderson collaborator, Robert D. Yeoman. One does not simply watch a Wes Anderson film as you would say a pot on the verge of a boil. No you experience it. The Grand Budapest Hotel is best appreciated as a work of art in which to luxuriate in the glorious ambiance of its fastidious charms.

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32 Responses to “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

  1. Well done Mark.

    While I don’t have a long hostorical association with Anderson’s films – I’ve seen only Moonrise Kingdom and the Darjeeling films, I do plan on seeing this one.

    Thanks for your fine crafted sentence calling the film ‘intoxicating’. It is quite difficult to resists a film so labeled.

    • If was to rank all of Anderson’s films, The Darjeeling Limited would appear at the bottom. I still enjoy aspects but it’s not my favorite. I can’t pick a #1 because I love them all. The Royal Tenenbaums is perhaps his most beloved work so I guess I’d recommend that one the most.

  2. One of my more anticipated films of 2014 in all honesty. I’m trying my hardest to avoid reading anything about it in fear of revealing important plot details but at least the thing I do see in common with the reviews is that they are all talking high praise of the movie. I very, very much look forward to getting to see it. Nice review.

    • It’s almost possible to ruin a Wes Anderson film because so much is dependent on visual style. You can explain it and I try but nothing can do justice to his gorgeous visuals.

  3. Oh lovely! So glad you liked this, I thought it was wonderful. Anderson usually goes one way or the other for me, but I fell in love with The Grand Budapest Hotel.
    Lovely, lovely review.

  4. Great review here! “The Grand Budapest Hotel is a dazzling slice of enchantment.” I love that description. I’m not a huge fan of Wes Anderson films, but this one looks like it’d be magnificent on the big screen. Plus, I didn’t know the historical time setting of the film…adds more edge than I anticipated!

    • The alternate reality made the production feel almost like a fairy tale but still based within the context of a familiar history. Seeing it on the big screen is a plus. It’s a gorgeous looking production.

  5. I love everything about Wes Anderson’s movies. Like you said, It’s always an event. I was very excited about seeing this one too. It started a little slow. But, once the story started, the same awesome quirkiness set in. I loved it. The review, by the way, was written brilliantly. ” It’s a tale wrapped up in a tale wrapped up in a tale”. That is awesome. I may have to see this again. It’s an art exhibit for the eyes. 4 stars

  6. Beautifully-detailed review Mark! Anderson’s attention to detail is impressive indeed, I think some people might call it style over substance but in this one I felt like the story is just as compelling in a kooky kind of way. I don’t always love all his movies, but I do appreciate his unique style. I think this one could be my fave of the ones I’ve seen so far.

    • I can understand why others might allege his precious style gets in the way of storytelling in pretty much any of his films. That’s precisely why I love Wes Anderson, that attention to detail. I’d day this is his most meticulously crafted production ever. Everything is just so perfect. Glad you enjoyed it!

  7. Really great review Mark. This is a work of art this film, everything is so meticulously detailed. It really is, like you say, a bit of an ode to Kubrick it feels at times. A brilliant film and one I’d happily see again.

    • There are a lot of great productions where a hotel plays an important part: Grand Hotel (1932), Some Like It Hot (1959), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960), The Shining (1980), Hotel Rwanda (2004), 1408 (2007), The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011).

      The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) is part of an illustrious list. :-)

  8. I am embarrassed to say that I have not watched this yet. Why? It just so happens that Canadian theaters aren’t playing it, or if they are, not any that are close-by. It is really starting to aggravate me….

    I loved your comparison to a work of art. That is what I am sure it will be!

  9. Nice review. This is one of my most anticipated movies of 2014, so it’s good to see a strong score.

  10. Great review. one of my favorites of yours and will be looking forward to this film. am not a big Anderson fan but Moonrise Kingdom alone is enough to always to get me curious about the artistic look of his films.

  11. Great review, Mark. As always. I quite agree. The acting is top notch. The story is interesting enough to hold attention, and the visual display is sensational.

    • There’s no way the Academy will remember any of this for next year, but Ralph Fiennes, in particular, gives an outstanding performance.

      • Amen. I too would call Fiennes award worthy. And I’m with you: this will not be up for many Oscars, even Fiennes. Release date will hurt it, and so will the fact that the Academy so rarely recognizes Anderson for anything.

        Though much of Anderson’s work does get screenplay nods, no matter its release date. So this might have a shot of generating that nomination (much Moonrise Kingdom did, despite its May release).

  12. Well said. Easily my favourite film of the year so far and it’s going to take something very special to knock it off the top spot. Anderson is spectacular and this feels like his best yet.

  13. Lovely review, glad you liked it! The slapstick of the film heightens the film and is always used in good taste with Anderson’s writing making sure it never feels out of place, and surprisingly never detaches. I was a big fan of it.

  14. You know I’ve been dying to see this one. I love Wes Anderson, and after Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom, I’m pretty much in love with his movies. It’s continuously pissing me off that Budapest isn’t playing anywhere nearby.

  15. Great review Mark. Your praising prose exudes the same romanticism that Anderson pours into his movies, so tonally it feels like a nice match. I tend to be rather hot and cold when it comes to his films, but I’m very curious about this one, especially after your review. I love all of the people you’ve name drop and the story sounds pretty fascinating even if Anderson tends to focus more on the presentation than the meat and potatoes of the plot. Definitely need to check it out soon before it’s out of theaters.

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