A Satisfying Stay: Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) – Blu-ray review
A blissful exercise in pure film from a director increasingly confident in his abilities – and, arguably, he’s even found new room(s) within his cinematic hostelry.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
(Wes Anderson, 2014)
It was probably inevitable that Wes Anderson would get around to making a film about a hotel – the décor, the architecture, the uniforms! To the director’s detractors, such a prospect would be stifling; a chance for this most fastidious of directors to disappear down the dead end of a hotel corridor. But guess again – like any good concierge, Anderson knows many more tricks and one of the many pleasures of The Grand Budapest Hotel is that it doesn’t go where you expect.
The setting – allied to probably Anderson’s most jaw-dropping ensemble – would suggest a Grand Hotel-style soap about the guests in the titular abode, yet Anderson foxes us by supplying a quest movie: a madcap, pre-war caper in a fictional, Ruritanian Europe. The focus is staunchly on Ralph Fiennes’ concierge Gustave and his protege, the lobby boy Zero Mustafa (played by newcomer Tony Revolori) – a lovely relationship that highlights the sheer joy of collaboration in Anderson’s work.
Fiennes doing comedy? It shouldn’t work – yet Gustave is one of Anderson’s great creations, a man whose apparently superficial pomposity is simply an outward manifestion of deep-seated romanticism, in which manners and perfectionism sit as comfortably as profanity and an enthusiastic sexual fetish for the “cheaper cuts”. Fiennes plays it in a rapid-fire tempo, barking commands like Leonard Rossiter and moving with the nimble grace of Errol Flynn – but isn’t it more likely that Gustave is Anderson himself, the exuberant servant to his storyworld?
Everything that follows is pure Anderson, from the chapter titles and Russian doll scene-setting, to the lo-fi animation and rigid framing (even if the director shows an increasing delight in messing up the symmetry: check out the monk who gives a look of disgruntled exasperation after being moved out of position). Better still, the film moves with an extraordinary screwball pace so that even the repetitive rhythms of a trademark montage (notably the delightful sequence in which Gustave’s fellow concierges invite their assistants to “take over!”) don’t kill the pace but keep it energised. And Anderson’s grasp of tone is remarkably fluid, ranging from the shocking suspense of a museum murder to the slapstick of a prison escape.
Does it mean anything? The film’s belated attempts at an elegy for a lost world don’t quite gel; as in The Darjeeling Limited‘s swerve into seriousness, Anderson’s style isn’t suited for sincerity. Yet this time he answers his own critics – the multiple framing devices put huge distance between us and Gustave, and far from a sign of emotional coldness it’s a realisation that the kind of tales Anderson is referencing here (not just the stated homage to Stefan Zweig but the Hollywood films of European émigrés like Lubitsch) are seriously removed by decades of social shifts and artistic movements. In such a light, it’s hard to complain that the tragedy is a footnote here; we have enough of that in modern life; we turn to these tall tales precisely for the wit, characterisation and colour that few can nowadays provide – and fair play to Anderson for being a rare exception.