After much anticipation since the release of the trailers and other promotional tidbits, I finally got to feast my eyes upon Wes Anderson's latest creation, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and, in short, was not disappointed. In fact, I was delighted. In essence it's a memoir of a lobby boy's adventures with his concierge boss, which include a murder, a theft, a prison break, and years later, a solemn reflection to a young writer who later compiles the adventures into a bestselling book. And it's all wrapped up in the visual confection and star-studded cast, as only Anderson knows how to do.
If there's anything I love in this world, it's a well-defined person; someone who knows what they like and likes it unabashedly, who says what they mean, and who remains unswayed by any wandering peers who might envy their confidence. Wes Anderson is one such person and, even better, those are the kinds of characters he creates. Predictable? Maybe. But comforting in their trustworthiness? Always.
The Grand Budapest Hotel excels in regards to character, and there are plenty of them to behold. The movie opens by acquainting us with the author of a beloved book (Author, played by Tom Wilkinson), who takes us back to his younger days (Young Author portrayed by Jude Law) and the memory of his conversation with the aged Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) during a stay at the Grand Budapest Hotel. In conversation, Mr. Moustafa tells the Young Author about how he came to be the owner of the Grand Budapest, beginning with his days as a lobby boy, in the height of the Grand Budapest's glamourous heyday. The story that follows is an adventurous account of the young Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori's debut role) and his boss, mentor, and friend Mr. Goustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) as they steal a coveted painting that was bequeathed to Mr. Goustave after the mysterious death of his beloved hotel patron Madame D. (Tilda Swinton). The pair dodge assassination attempts from the woman's son and his hit man (Adrien Brody and Willem Dafoe respectively), break out of prison (with Harvey Keitel's tattooed Ludwig), find refuge in precarious mountaintop monasteries, recruit the help of a tightly networked concierge society (it's not a proper Anderson movie without Bill Murray and Owen Wilson, now is it?), and ultimately forge a friendship built upon respect and devotion to a job well done. It's an intricate plot that could risk getting lost in itself at times, but the excellent use of visual devices, character development, and narration keep us on track and on board.
For starters, Mr. Goustave H. is a masterpiece, acted magnificently by Ralph Fiennes, and quite possibly the stuff of cinematic history (is it too early to start talking Oscar nominations?) Because despite all of Gustave's caricature-ish qualities, his humanness is utterly endearing. You'll find yourself genuinely charmed by his wry composure but love him for his moments of unbridled lack-of-composure - usually in the form of hilarious storms of panicked expletives (I'm never offended by language, but be warned, this movie is rated R for a reason). As far as those aforementioned comfortingly trustworthy characters, Goustave is the ultimate; he isn't perfect, but you know he's genuine. And in the tender moments he shares with Zero (whether thanking him for aiding in the prison break or protecting him from menacing military officials on the train - "Get your hands off my lobby boy!") we're reminded that at the heart of any worthwhile adventure, is a worthwhile relationship.
It's these relationship that make Anderson's movies work, especially with his large casts - he knows how to build a character by way of concisely framing human oddities and dispositions. They're so condensed that you can't ignore a single quirk, and though he risks his characters becoming too obscure or too specific, Anderson never crosses the line. We've seen him do it since The Royal Tennenbaums, and all the way to Moonrise Kingdom - his moody, flawed, and eccentric creations somehow manage to get along in the end. In Grand Budapest, Mr. Gustave is a tour-de-force of unfailing hospitality and charm, Zero Moustafa is devotedly earnest, Agatha (Zero's love interest played by sweetly by Soarsie Ronan) is, as Gustave describes, unabashedly "pure", and even menacing hit-man, Jopling, is respectable in his pursuit of doing the job right. These casts of characters are endearing and relatable in their oddities, and thus we find ourselves wanting to go on these ridiculous, symmetrically-framed journeys with them.
|I want to go to there.|
But this, of course, isn't the only draw I find to Anderson's films. I'm not afraid to admit, I mostly choose my movies based purely on their visual attributes (I mean, Anna Karenina was super boring but it was beautiful, am I right?) - and Anderson never fails to create masterpieces of whimsical, genuinely clever wit, all framed in bounteous visual perfection. In Grand Budapest we're lucky enough to be zoomed across three decades; a brief moment is spent in our current day, followed by a pause in the 80's before landing in the 70's where the elderly Zero Moustafa proceeds to share the story of the Grand Budapest Hotel, which takes us to the glamorous age of 1930's hotel society, where we spend the majority of our time.
|I also want these things.|
Aside from the literal tri-tiered cream puff confections from the fictional Mendle's Bakery, the hotel is a confection in and of itself. We're used to Anderson's tawny 70's palettes, so the unabashed use of pink, purple, grey, and blue in the Grand Budapest is, well, yummy. The pink hotel facade is just one of the many delightful miniatures Anderson utilizes throughout the film, among other scenes set atop the precarious snowy peaks of his fictional alpine town. But I was excited to learn that various interiors and winding snowy street scenes were shot in the real-life Polish town, Görlitz. There's nothing so lovely as an obscure sleepy European village, is there?
In fact, the visual elements are what tempt me to claim The Grand Budapest as my new favorite Anderson film. In reviewing his film history, Anderson's style, though consistent, has taken a while to find its stride. In 2001's The Royal Tennenbaums, the characters felt disjointed from their "world" - they're a little too eccentric and set in places that are a little too real. But by 2012's Moonrise Kindgom, and certainly in Grand Budapest, Anderson has created a world that his characters can inhabit perfectly - all the elements are harmonious at last; costumes match characters, characters match settings, settings match eras, and the oddities of them all match the oddities of the plot. Whether this is a product of Anderson's filmmaking maturity, an increased fan base, or simply heightened budgets, who can rightly say, but I'm glad he's finally hit upon this perfect visual and directorial concoction.
|And these... I want all the stuff, okay!?|
I hate to break it to you, but getting ahold of tickets to The Grand Budapest will probably be difficult. Anderson's films are always limited in their releases, and I could only find one theater in Utah that it was playing at. But I will have you know, it is worth the effort. As far as I've heard, it's quickly becoming a favorite among Anderson's most devoted fans, but for those previously unexposed to his work, this is a great one to start with. The Grand Budapest Hotel certainly rests safely in my list of favorite films, and let me tell you, it feels good to have a new favorite.
See it, I say!