01st Jul2014

‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ Review

by Dan Clark

Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, Tony Revolori, Willem Dafoe | Written by Wes Anderson, Hugo Guinness | Directed by Wes Anderson

Grand-Budapest-Hotel-Fiennes

Wes Anderson’s intrinsic surreal style is so unmistakable it is safe to assume it can be seen from space.  Each ounce of each frame is so unmistakably his own that it identifies itself as a Wes Anderson film moments into the opening credits. Having such an intoxicating panache has caused him to have his fair share of detractors. Those who find he relies on the same type of ostentatious bells and whistles far too often.

The Grand Budapest Hotel will do nothing to silence those criticisms, and rightfully that is never the intention. Anderson creates cinematic confetti where each piece is intricately woven into the next. It is storybook come to life inside a live-action carton next to a screwball comedy of yesteryear. There is an elegancy with a punch of crudeness–colorfulness with a pinch of drab—and a cheery disposition with an underlying sense of approaching dread.  There is an unyielding charm that makes it superbly joyous experience. Unquestionable it is one of Anderson’s best works in years.

The story unfolds in an Inception like style as it adapts a novel depicting an author recanting a story told to him by a former acquaintance. Progressively each story is unveiled like opening up a Russian nesting doll until the final piece that started it all is reached.  That center piece is the story of M. Gustave H. who was the concierge for the Budapest during the 1930’s.

Ralph Fiennes plays Gustave and reminds us he does not always have to be the manacle villain bent on crushing humanity. Fiennes has a dry cultured wit as he presents himself as an epicurean figure in a land sophistication, yet that noble stature slightly gives way in fits of frustration.  A vile word or gesture would punctuate quick moments of his instinctive rage, only to quickly return to his original facade. It was an absorbing performance that was mesmerizing to witness.

Gustave is highly respected by his staff and adored by the hotel’s most notable clientele—who are mostly elderly women who seek his intimate companionship. He becomes a prime murder suspect when one of his companions Madame D is slain at her home. Making things worse Madame D  bequeaths her priceless painting to him causing an immediate feud between  Gustave and Madame D’s remaining family. Dimitri (Adrien Brody), Madame D’s remaining son, vows to stop Gustave from taking what he feels rightfully belongs to him.  Setting off Gustave and Zero (Tony Revolori) his new trusted lobby boy  on a series of adventures as they attempt to avoid Dimitri’s wrath.

Gustave and Zero’s friendship is the heart of the story. They are an oddball combination and have nothing in common except for their love of The Grand Budapest Hotel. This relationship is the weakest of rather immensely strong chain. Their kinship was never as effecting as the movie hope for. Each are strong enough characters that it did not hurt the movie a great deal.  Zero is the innocent sole that is completely devoted to his job and his boss. His immigrant backstory also serves as a constant reminder of the oncoming war that lies in the background.

In true Wes Anderson fashion the story unfolds with a series of short vignettes that are strong on their own accord, but even stronger when tied together. Arraigning it in this manner makes it living personification of cinephile’s kinetic dream. Each sequence was vivid with cinematic influences from an Alfred Hitchcock  inspired silent chase in an eerie museum to a prison escape that was part Marx Brothers part Looney Tunes. Anderson continues with his love affair of stop-motion animation through a ski slope chase that was pure camp in the best way possible. Thanks to flawless editing and impeccable direction all these elements that should be at odds end up complementing one another.

From afar it appears like a Jackson Pollock painting with artistry arranged in a chaotic order. When you are it in it everything feels appropriately placed together. Every minute aspect is meticulously planned down to finite detail. Robert D. Yeoman’s cinematography has a sheen beauty that pops from the screen. Clever adjustments like use of different aspect ratios differentiated each distinct time period. In the end the most important connecting fiber may be Alexandre Desplat infecting score.  Unlike most Anderson films is not full of 60 era pop hits, instead filling the score with more traditional orchestral sounds. It created a lavish atmosphere that encouraged liveliness.  There is soothing quality that makes you feel right at home.

Wes Anderson films tend to take place in a setting out of time. They could be occurring yesterday, tomorrow, or forty years ago. What is apparent about Anderson is his admiration for the past, which makes the fact that  The Grand Budapest Hotel is his first period piece all that more surprising.  We tend to associate nostalgia strictly with our own childhood but in reality it is more than that.  The Grand Budapest Hotel works as a piece of nostalgia for a number of reasons. The building itself stands as a testament to past greatness that needs to be admired, its characters favor the traditional lifestyle, and its director is one who cherishes old-fashion techniques that others have long forgotten. Anderson uses this to create his broadest film yet still does not lose what makes him such a exceptional auteur. It  is an achievement—an absolute delight from beginning to end.

**** 4/5

The Grand Budapest Hotel is released on DVD and Blu-ray on July 7th.

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