Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel: A Review (Review #645)


I am by no means a Wes Anderson fan (what do I call them?  Wessers?  Andersonians?)  I find his style to be self-consciously cute and whimsical, and for my taste too focused on the visuals than on the humans, who are often more extensions of Anderson's fantasy world than actual people.  Having said that, I have warmed somewhat to his world.  As much as I detested The Royal Tenenbaums (bunch of whiny WASPs in my view), I enjoyed Moonrise Kingdom (though given that children were at the center of it all, I found it made sense that their world was a little offbeat).   Now we have The Grand Budapest Hotel, a mix of elegy for long-vanished world and more Andersonian whimsy. 

Yes, I enjoyed the film, perhaps because I didn't see it as this overtly cutesy but still something in its own universe, one that I still find a bit hard to embrace.

We have three stories in one, befitting the setting of Zubrokaw, a vaguely Central/Eastern European country pre-and-post World War II and subsequent Communist occupation.  We have the first (and thinnest) story: in 1985, when the nation is in mourning over The Author, who wrote The Grand Budapest Hotel.  We then go to 1968, where The Young Writer (Jude Law) recounts how he came to find the tale of The Grand Budapest Hotel, owned by a Zero Mustafa (F. Murray Abraham).  With that, we go to the main thrust of the story, where a Young Mustafa (Tony Revolori) is starting out as a young and inexperienced lobby boy at this elegant establishment. 

Mustafa is taken under the wing of M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), the concierge de concierge, the Citizen Kane of Concierges if you will, one who believes that 'rudeness is merely an expression of fear'.  M. Gustave runs The Grand Budapest Hotel with the upmost efficiency and sophistication.  He has a weakness: he 'caters' to older blonde women despite wide suspicion (though no confirmation) that M. Gustave might be gay.  One of his 'clients', Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), has died.  With war in the headlines, this is the news that concerns M. Gustave.

To his surprise, and that of all of Madame D.'s relatives like her Fascistic nephew Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and his henchman Jopling (Willem Dafoe), Madame has gifted M. Gustave with a priceless painting, Boy With Apple.   While Madame D.'s solicitor Deputy Kovacs (Jeff Goldblum) wishes to investigate the death of Madame D. and keep the will as is, Dmitri will have none of it.  Jopling not only kills Kovacs but now M. Gustave is framed for Madame D.'s murder. 

Once in prison, Mustafa gets help in smuggling escape tools through Agatha (Saoirse Ronan), a pastry chef's assistant with a birthmark the exact shape of Mexico who are now in love.  M. Gustave and Mustafa now go on the hunt for the Second Will and Madame D.'s real killer, and while the Zig-Zag  Division of pseudo-Nazis are taking the hotel, the Division's head, Dmitri, is too obsessed with stopping M. Gustave and recover the painting.  As it stands, the Second Will is in the painting, and we find M. Gustave is the rightful heir.  After his death, M. Mustafa takes the hotel and keeps it running the best he can despite the Communists 'efficiency' in making things equal, as in equally drab.  We now find that all the tales are now at an end. 

Again,  one has to accept that an Andersonian world is one where whimsy is the law of the land.  I imagine that Wes Anderson would have made a great silent film director.  Despite how often his dialogue may be praised, the important thing with Anderson is the visuals.  If one dropped all the dialogue from The Grand Budapest Hotel and substituted title cards without altering anything else, I imagine that The Grand Budapest Hotel would look like something that would be shown on TCM's Silent Sunday Nights.  The deliberate whimsy and cuteness of Anderson's film work in general are on full cylinders here.

His mix of offbeat humor and visual splendor come from the fact that the film is divided into five parts (the screen says, Part 1, Part 2, and so on), and from the fact that the most violent that Anderson ever gets is when we see Jopling kill Kovacs by seeing Kovacs' fingers come off.  That really is as bloody as he has gotten.  In any case, Anderson is and pretty much has always been and will always be someone who makes films like an elegant pastry: pretty but light.

This isn't to say I didn't think The Grand Budapest Hotel was terrible.  By now one has to accept that Anderson is his own style in the same way Tarantino is his own style.  I for one am fascinated by the prospect of having Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino switched scripts.  Can one imagine Quentin Tarantino's Moonrise Kingdom or Wes Anderson's Django Unchained

Everything that makes a Wes Anderson film a Wes Anderson film are here: the lack of cutting, the camera moving left to right (always left to right), the characters always in the dead center of the frame, and the obsession with the look of the film.  IF one embraces this quirks of Anderson's (or like me, just accepts them and doesn't try to shake the mop-top violently to get him to edit his films another way), you will find The Grand Budapest Hotel a delight.

Truth be told, I did after a while warm up to the film.  It knew what it was (a confectionary piece that was also a lament for that Age D'Or that is now long-lost).  We see this thanks to the commentary of how The Grand Budapest Hotel looks under the Communist era: dry, dull, uninterested workers with only Boy With Apple to give it any sense of elegance and opulence.  The incoming war that will sweep away all that Gustave loves and holds so dear looks as whimsical as the world he occupies.

As the film knows what it is, the elements in it work.  We get Alexandre Desplat's score that shifts from vaguely Slavic to Baroque, all fitting the mood Anderson wants to set.  The acting is equally fluffy but effective: from Brody's camp villain to Defoe's more dangerous but still oddly quirky henchman, but in truth The Grand Budapest Hotel is Fiennes' show.  His Gustave manages to keep the balance between camp and sincerity, as though he genuinely belongs in this exaggerated and mannered world because HE is so exaggerated and mannered.  Everyone else around him (even in smaller roles like Anderson regulars Bill Murray and my doppelganger Jason Schwartzman) has to keep up with him. 

Those not in his era, like Law and Abraham (and I'm so glad Abraham is making more movies and television appearances) play it straight but with a slight twinkle, as if knowing they can't take all this completely seriously.

Yes, I enjoyed The Grand Budapest Hotel, and while I still haven't fully embraced Wes Anderson the way the Wessers have (I think I'll stick with that nickname for his acolytes), at least for now I can revel in his world, full of whimsy and yearning for a world that is no longer here, and perhaps never was. 

Le difference entre
Schwartzman et Aragon?
I never smoked, and

am a foot taller!


1 comment:

  1. Somehow, I have yet to watch a Wes Anderson film. Maybe The Grand Budapest Hotel will be a good place to start.



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