A flurry of debate arises whenever an auteur releases a new film. Each fresh creation is greeted by a career retrospective that boils down to anointing one movie as ‘the best’. Few filmmakers ignite deliberation like Wes Anderson who has been passing around a box of cinematic confectionary since he debuted in 1996 with Bottle Rocket. Anointing a favourite Anderson joint just became harder with the arrival of The Grand Budapest Hotel.
The layers of Anderson’s tale are thick, and it begins with a teenage girl reading the memoir of a writer only known as ‘The Author’. A chapter begins in the late 1960s with the Author (Jude Law) visiting the battered Grand Budapest Hotel in the Republic of Zubrowka in central Europe. During his stay the Author meets an old man named Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) who recounts his experiences working as the lobby boy (Tony Revolori is a younger Zero) during the 1930s under the tutelage of the sophisticated concierge M. Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes).
All the stylistic quirks of the director are on show and it’s a gluttonous display of all things Anderson. Meticulous palates of candy-coloured environments are captured beautifully by Anderson’s veteran cinematographer Robert Yeoman. There’s also an adoration of typography is in every written note and a wonderful use of miniatures for hotel exteriors as well as a rousing downhill ski chase sequence. Anderson also permits the aspect ratio to expand and contact like the mind’s eye being enthralled by past memories as it shifts between timelines with the original 35mm silent film ratio (1.33), standard 35mm widescreen format, and 35 mm anamorphic Cinemascope (2.35:1). Not only does the technique add to the authenticity of each timeframe, but it’s also a loving expression of Anderson’s adoration of vintage filmmaking techniques. Edmund Goulding's Grand Hotel and several Ernst Lubitsch films have been cited by Anderson as key influences.
Unwrapping The Grand Budapest Hotel is an utter delight and it’s like an Agatha Christie murder mystery through Anderson’s eyes (although the writer and director acknowledged the author Stefan Zweig as the prime inspiration). Once you’re a few levels deep the plot kicks into gear with the death of a wealthy socialite (Tilda Swinton aged expertly with makeup), a ruckus over inheritance and a mystery painting. Anderson’s screenplay is lush with intricate details and threads of the narrative are elegantly weaved and plucked to maximum effect. There’s also wistfulness due to the melancholic bookends of the film featuring the older Zero, and there’s a definite shade of darkness, it’s certainly Anderson’s most violent film with severed fingers, stabbings and shootouts; it’s like a twee Tarantino. In flashback mode, the 1930s setting is opulent within the walls of the hotel and Anderson establishes the ordered chaos Gustave orchestrates to satisfy the needs to every guest, which often involves romantic entanglements with the elderly female visitors. Fiennes is deliciously camp while maintaining an aura of masculinity and street smarts. The actor turns the pronunciation of ‘darling’ into an art form as well as delivering pitch perfect one-liners and innate comedic timing that suits Anderson’s goofball sense of humour impeccably. Revolori’s Zero is a charming assistant who carries the bulk of leading man duties with the aid of Abraham’s stoic storybook style voiceover. There’s a neurotic innocence to Revolori’s performance that gives way as his character matures across the course of the film.
The Anderson All-Stars are assembled to fill every role no matter how big or small the part may be, and spoiling the details of their deployment would be cruel, but be prepared for bouts of joy with each appearance of various goons, hotel staff and prisoners (there’s a daring escape sequence from a jail).
The Grand Budapest Hotel politely squishes itself into the upper tier of Anderson’s resume. It’s easy for a newcomer to be declared the best while it’s fresh in the mind and plunging into Anderson’s back catalogue immediately is essential, but this hotel caper may be the filmmaker firing on all his quaint idiosyncratic cylinders.
[rating=4] and a half
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @MrCamW