THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL Review

Wes Anderson's latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel is many things, but at its heart it feels like a quiet epic, a love letter to time gone by with a narrative spanning decades that chronicles the exceptionally unexceptional life of one young man who was influenced by another and would have his world forever changed because of him. It is as much about the world one creates around themselves and how it determines the outcome of ones life as it is about the actual plot of the story which, be not afraid, contains prison break-outs, gun fights, affairs with older women and a fair amount of lies and deception. Over the course of his career, Anderson has created many an interesting world where his characters find their typically odd yet perfect little worlds rocked by some kind of event. Whether it be the Tennenbaums, Steve Zissou or even Mr. Fox each of these characters have a way of trying to retain the normality that has escaped them in the time of their lives that Anderson's films have chosen to document. With The Grand Budapest Hotel things are only slightly different in that the screenplay itself, for the first time in his career, was written solely by Anderson and this more intimate relationship with the material certainly makes for a strong showing by the director, one in which it feels this film is the epitome of Anderson's imagination, that he is fully operating within the confines of his own imagination that he has come to be inspired to create through the works of Stefan Zweig and his consistent themes of becoming lost in ones reality and while not only has Anderson seemed to inhabit the role of Zweig here he has also come to imprint that same mentality on his main character, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). Gustave, as one of our two storytellers overseeing the main narrative insinuates near the end of the film, may have come to live in a world that ceased to exist before he even entered it. It is this kind of thinking, these ideas beyond that of simply telling an entertaining story, but rather inspecting the mind of someone and how they look at their world and take on the challenges laid before them that makes Anderson's work so engaging and off-kilter, while this film in particular beautifully demonstrates the thin line that sometimes exists between real life and imagination.

M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) instructs his Lobby Boy, Zero (Tony Revolori) where to hide his priceless painting.
Again, and as with many of Anderson's films, it is easy to describe the plot of The Grand Budapest Hotel in a few short sentences, but to really understand everything that the the film is attempting to tackle in terms of theme and existential ideas would be to write an extended essay that has a page or more covering the several different ideas that the writer/director has tackled here. To keep things broad would be to say that we meet an author (first played by Tom Wilkinson) who talks of what it is to be a writer and a singular experience that gave him his most memorable of stories. We are transported from the mid-80's to the mid-60's where a younger version of our writer (now Jude Law) is staying at a hotel long past its prime, though the air of nostalgia is still present and the charm of what it once was still slightly evident. Concierge M. Jean (Jason Schwartzman) informs our writer that Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the owner of the hotel, has arrived. Our writer is interested, but keeps his distance only for an organic encounter to take place later which inevitably sets the stage for Mr. Moustafa's elaborate response to our writers question of how he came to own the hotel. We are then taken to the early-30's where Moustafa was once a lobby boy known only as Zero (Tony Revolori) and had the honor of being trained by the aforementioned M. Gustave, a man who knew who he was, what he wanted and simply took things as he liked with a reigning superiority over his hotel and the types of people that stayed there. It is when one of his guests and many lovers, Madame D (Tilda Swinton), is found dead and Gustave becomes the main suspect that things take a turn in the well-planned, well-mannered life of the societally prolific concierge. Madame D was beyond wealthy and her son, Dmitri (Adrien Brody), and three mumbling daughters want the fortune for themselves, but their mother has left her most cherished of possessions, a painting known as "Boy with Apple", to Gustave and Dmitri, despite his consistently conspicuous air of menace, places the blame for his mothers death on Gustave, who he claims murdered her. This results in a whirlwind of consequences and subplots involving the said prison break and shootout as well as a touching little love story between Zero and Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) that humanizes Gustave so much it translates his at first loathsome qualities to that of the same endearing relationship he develops with Zero.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is an example of a film that I could watch again as soon as the credits roll. From the very beginning, that opening shot where a young girl walks past a group of choir singers sitting on a park bench singing along with Alexandre Desplat's wonderful score as she takes her place under the statue of Tom Wilkinson's writer and begins to read his book that shares the same title as the film, we understand the complex mix of humor and sincere sentiment. It is the same kind of tone Anderson uses in almost all of his movies, painting a portrait of odd yet perfectly flawed characters while always capturing the small moments of dry humor the seep their way into everyday life and would seem impossible to capture in as manufactured an environment as a film set, but here it seems Anderson is on full-tilt as the comedy comes rolling off the tongues of the characters with rapid speed while the typically precise camera work of Anderson, another element on full display here, only serves to embellish the comedy of every scenario with which we encounter. It is interesting to see how the story itself is more or less an excuse to perform an exercise in characterization. Never do we become bogged down in the complexities of the purposefully convoluted plot, but instead we become more interested in the intentions of the characters at play and what motivates them to push the plot points that come up rather than the plot points pushing them, a seemingly natural thing to do, but one that is difficult to master, again, in as artificial an environment as a film set. At the head of this quiet epic is the distinguished presence of Gustave who, as excellenty performed in a career-turning performance by Fiennes, is the be all and end all to why this story is worth telling, why our adult Mr. Moustafa finds it necessary to reserve the time to expand upon his life and adventures because his intentions are not to glorify the life he had and the seemingly wonderful love story that was so delicately placed and so hastily taken from his life, but instead to honor the presence and persona of a man that would come to influence not necessarily how he lived his life, but more as a guardian of how a man should carry himself despite the details behind their facades. Zero is nothing less than a protégé of Gustave's, but never do we get the montage where Zero transforms himself into being a carbon copy of his main influence, but instead we see the mind of Zero being opened to new experiences where he incorporates them into his already defines set of standards that if anything, push Zero to a level playing field with his veteran concierge that make him more of a well-rounded character than anything nearing an archetype.

Zero falls in love with a local girl named Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) who bakes and decorates the best of treats.
Speaking of archetypes, The Grand Budapest Hotel is anything but typical in its style and execution of ideas for even though the very whimsical, wide eyes of his camera lens appear the same and put his stamp of approval on it, the color palette (though slightly similar to Tennenbaums) renders a different mood as he does with each film. The purple and pinks merged with the violent red of the interior hotel sets lend the world a sense of tranquility with the sense of impending doom, that feeling that no matter who you are, how rich you've become there is always some form of heartbreak in your future, it is an element of our existence we cannot control and even in these worlds Anderson stocks full of enchantment it is always looming and we feel this restlessness if not in the abundance of style and character but in the consistent presence of the tone. In order to bring what feels like the world Anderson has always dreamed of to the screen he has enlisted a roster of characters and frequent collaborators to bring them into existence as well. I have attempted to incorporate as many of them as possible throughout the explanation of why this specific Anderson film hit me as sweetly and as hilariously as it did, but it would be a dishonor to the work of the likes of Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, Edward Norton along with Harvey Keitel and his gang of inmates who help Gustave escape from prison to not mention them at all. As Deputy Kovacs, Goldblum is especially engaging with his distinctive voice blending perfectly with Anderson's dry delivery and perfectly articulate dialogue that it is only a shame we don't spend more time with the man caught between the worlds of the Grand Budapest and Madame D's offspring. I didn't expect much from Dafoe as his presence in the trailer seemed to suggest nothing more than a small cameo of a role, but his presence encapsulates one of the more hilarious running jokes in the film that actually has to deal with running while the climax of this joke results in one of the best moments of the year so far (and probably the remainder of it) in film. Norton is truly a side character in that his role gives way to no significant impact, but it is fun to see his face along with seasoned players like Bill Murray Owen Wilson pop up throughout. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a film that deserves a much longer write-up than this and yet I feel content in concluding this review with as simple a recommendation as, please go and see it.