The Grand Budapest Hotel Review (2014) - Dir. Wes Anderson
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The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

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M. Gustave is the concierge of the prestigious Grand Budapest Hotel in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka in the 1930s, and Zero Moustafa is his loyal lobby boy in training. When Gustave's long-time acquaintance and yearly hotel guest, the wealthy Madame D. is suddenly murdered, Gustave finds himself pursued by the law and her son Dmitri over a priceless painting left to him in her will.

**The Grand Budapest Hotel is currently available on Amazon Instant Video, and will be released on DVD this Tuesday, July 8.

The Grand Budapest HotelKyleLikeNew

Awhile ago, around the time The Darjeeling Limited was released, I kind of checked out on Wes Anderson. I skipped The Fantastic Mr. Fox and came back in on Moonrise Kingdom last year, which was—and I think this is the appropriate word—delightful. The reason Darjeeling put me off so much was that it seemed like Anderson was going the way of Tim Burton, making movies solely as vehicles for his unique brand of whimsy. The problem with that film was that it was so devoted to a kind of straight-faced, unbetrayed irony—which works in the harsher worlds of The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore—even as it wanted to be a sillier, zanier story along the lines of The Life Aquatic. It seemed self-satisfied and artificial without the typical Anderson payoffs to justify those qualities.

What The Grand Budapest Hotel does so well is to indulge Anderson's love of artifice—the sets that are so obviously sound-stage creations or miniatures; the broadly defined characters spurred by grand and fundamentally uncomplicated motives—while employing these elements at the service of a story for which they are a natural and essential fit. The Grand Budapest Hotel is every bit as over-imagined and affected as Anderson's other films, and more—the difference is that here (like in 2012's Moonrise Kingdom) the world we're asked to enter into is so ripe for embellishment, existing on a nostalgic, genuinely sentimental plane between reality and fable.

M. Gustave and Zero Moustafa caught in the act

Fiennes and Revolori play off each other very well as cohorts perpetually caught in the act.

While many of the typical Wes Anderson stable of actors are involved, he relies less on them here than usual, and most show up only in 2 or 3-scene supporting parts. Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori carry the majority of the movie as M. Gustave and Zero, the titular hotel's concierge and lobby boy (respectively). Tilda Swinton appears, almost unrecognizable, in an early scene as soon-to-be-murdered matriarch Madame D. Willem Dafoe is also great as a wonderfully menacing henchman for her sniveling, mustachio'd evil son (Adrian Brody). Other regulars like Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman make appearances as well, but they add texture in the form of recognizable types more than full characters.

Fiennes is a perfect fit for this material, which involves Madame D's contested and hilariously over-complicated will, her scheming and jealous children, and their plot to recover a priceless painting she left to Gustave—all set in a fictional European country against the backdrop of a dawning not-World-War-II-but-something-like-it. As M. Gustave, Fiennes suggests a kind of silly, overly genuine concern with his role as concierge (and “companion” to the hotel's many high-profile guests) that fits firmly in Anderson's faux-sincere worldview, but he does so without making the character a cartoon. There is a sense of magnitude to the events in the film that underlines its silliness, and Gustave's refusal to make even the slightest concessions to changing times or personal circumstances—upon being broken out of prison he chastises Zero for forgetting to bring a bottle of his favorite cologne, which he is known for applying a bit too liberally—acts as the kind of endearing quality one remembers about a place or person or time long after they're gone.


M. Gustave confronts Dmitri and his bodyguard

The supporting cast boasts some great performances, one of my favorite of which is Willem Dafoe's almost comically villainous henchmen.

In the same way Fiennes' performance is perfect for the material, the material is a great fit for Anderson's storytelling sensibilities. With The Grand Budapest Hotel he has come up with a clever and quirky, but also surprisingly poignant, way to look at how people leave their stamp on history and those around them. The structure of the film is essentially a memory within a story nested in a memory—in the first 10 minutes we get progressive flashbacks to 3 separate timelines—and while that could become a needless and superficial quirk, it serves to remind us that we're seeing a personal story as one character remembers it. The first and last shots, which appear insignificant at a glance, are also a nice nod to the way stories help us maintain the meaning of the past in the distant present.

Anderson's visual style is more insistent here than ever, but it never feels like an end in itself. Each frame seems like a still composition—every figure, piece of furniture, and slightly unnatural color selection is carefully arranged—until these static shots are broken with sudden and manic bursts of action. His picturesque worlds are always disrupted when things don't go exactly as planned according to some bizarre internal logic, and here it creates some of the best and funniest moments in the film. Gustave's deliberate but panicked turn as he flees from a group of soldiers in the hotel's lobby is a good example of the kind of quiet chaos we get throughout the whole movie.


Soldiers in hotel lobby

Anderson blocks each shot as if it's a painting slowly coming to life.

Those looking for a return to The Royal Tenenbaums or Rushmore aren't going to find it here, but looking at Anderson's last decade as a director, it's unlikely we're going back there any time soon. I'm kind of ok with that, especially if it means the further development of the techniques and types of stories we're seeing here and in Moonrise Kingdom. My favorite of his movies is still The Life Aquatic, but I don't necessarily want more of the same—that movie felt like a fun and uninhibited embracing of his usual goofy tropes. It has the raw joy of a kid in a candy store. With The Grand Budapest Hotel he seems more confident in telling a story that has more to it than his trademark quirks. There is no way anyone could mistake this for anything but a Wes Anderson film, but it also hints at more, and that's exciting.

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Tail - The Grand Budapest HotelThe Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Directed by Wes Anderson.

Screenplay written by Wes Anderson.

Starring Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori.

Posted by Kyle Miner

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