Directed by Wes Anderson
A girl in a modern day Zubrowka graveyard reads a book which is narrated in 1985 by its author as an old man (Tom Wilkinson) transitioning to his voice as a young man (Jude Law) who visits the fading Grand Budapest Hotel in 1968 and is told by the aging owner Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) the story of his younger self (Tony Revolori) and the adventure he shared with his mentor, the great concierge M. Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), in 1932. This, you must understand, is merely the establishing scene of the movie.
One of M. Gustave’s many elderly lovers, Madame Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe und Taxis (Tilda Swinton) dies, leaving him a valuable painting and the chief suspect in her murder. Escaping in the company of Ludwig (Harvey Keitel) and his gang, Gustave goes on the run with Zero to clear his name, aided by Zero’s resourceful fiancee Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) and the Society of Crossed Keys, an all-star fraternity of concierges, and pursued by Madame C.V.D.u.T’s son Dmitri (Adrian Brodie) and his hired goon Jopling (Wilhem Dafoe).
What’s wrong with it?
It’s hard to say that there is anything glaringly wrong with The Grand Budapest Hotel, but it’s certainly odd. If anything, it’s major flaw is that in spite of chases, gunfights, prison breaks and murder, nothing much actually seems to happen, perhaps due to the insulating effect of the film’s presentation as a story told to an author and published much later in life then read at his grave by a young fan.
Like most of Wes Anderson’s work, the film is almost aggressively idiosyncratic, making it difficult to know how to react to it. Actually, I’m not sure this is a flaw, since it’s clearly deliberate. The only director I can think of offhand who is similarly difficult to pin down to a genre is Terry Gilliam .
There’s something gruesomely hypnotic about the way Harvey Keitel’s muscles dance under the tattooed skin of his shirtless torso during his scenes.
The ending of the film is rather suddenly downbeat, which is a harsh way to end a fairly light ninety minutes.
What’s right with it?
There’s an odd quality to The Grand Budapest Hotel, in large part due to the use of very old-fashioned miniatures for the longer shots of the hotel and aerial views of the chase scenes. It’s like a fairy tale of the golden age of the cinema.
The film is exquisitely crafted, the sets and costumes superb and the characters bordering on caricature (as befits the subjects of an old man’s reminiscence.) A special mention must go to Adrian Brodie’s hair.
The cast is stunning, a mix of Anderson’s old hands (Bill Murray as one of the Crossed Key concierges, Edward Norton as a slightly hapless inspector, Owen Wilson as the interim concierge of the Grand Budapest, Jeff Goldblum as a lawyer, and Tilda Swinton under a mass of age makeup) and other big names. Only Revolori, the star turn, is a relative unknown, but keeps the company well enough.
The soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat is truly unique.
How bad is it really?
Like the pastries so beloved of M. Gustave, The Grand Hotel Budapest is a delightful confection. It’s not heavy on substance, although the ending and the hints of Zero’s tragic backstory give it some weight and ground it in the turbulent times in which is is set (Eastern Europe in the mid-1930s, albeit in a fictional country.)
It’s probably quite telling that it doesn’t fit any of my old tags.
Best bit (if such there is)?
When Gustave invokes the assistance of the Society of the Crossed Keys, a call goes out through a montage of scenes in which various concierges drop whatever they are doing to rush to provide assistance to their brother.
What’s up with…?
- The three layered flashback?
Production values – The film is gorgeous, and while the miniatures are clearly artificial there is no pretense that they are otherwise; they are merely presented to us as is. 1
Dialogue and performances – My stars, what a cast! The dialogue sparkles wittily and the performances from that who’s who are spot on. 2
Plot and execution – Looking back, a lot actually happens in the film, but it never felt that way. I guess that’s the point, so it was well done? Gosh; this one is actually quite hard to call… 5
Randomness – Harvey Keitel and his dancing muscles aside, the film is occasionally odd, but never randomly so. 3
Waste of potential – … The problem with talking about the potential of a Wes Anderson film is that they so rarely have any identifiable potential to waste. Good or bad, no-one else could or would ever have made them. They are what they are. 0