There are some films that you come across that are so perfect on every conceivable level you find yourself yearning for the benefit of back to back viewings to soak it all in. Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel is a work of visceral, madcap comedic genius.
We begin with a narrative turducken - modern emo girl obsessing over an unnamed author (Tom Wilkinson); that author reminiscing over the moment he found real life inspiration to purge a spout of writer's block in his youth (Jude Law) and his chance encounter with European oligarch Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) in the hollow shell that once was The Grand Budapest Hotel. Moustafa takes us back in time to to Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), a legendary concierge playing ringleader to the circus that was The Grand Budapest Hotel at it opulent heights and Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) the lobby boy who becomes his protégé.
Anderson has hit new heights with The Grand Budapest Hotel. It feels as if you're in the imagination of a true student of cinema. The Grand Budapest Hotel is so pedantic with its aesthetic that it comes with specific aspect ratio instructions for projectionists. There are flurries of kitsch practical special effects with models, obvious green screens because Anderson clearly feels that it evokes an era, a genre, a memory.
There's an old Hollywood portrayal of motion, space and world that is transformative.The constantly flowing camera make you feel like you're swimming through the Hotel's nervous system - bouncing to the next stimulus.
Anderson's screenplay (based off of the story he wrote with Hugo Guinness) embeds us into Gustave's world just as one of his favourite elderly customers and lovers passes away. In the wake of this wealthy lionesses passing there's a veritable frenzy of scavengers, namely her deplorable family, circling the corpse. As the palimpsest of a will starts to tease out that her family may not be the only benefactors, Dimitri (Adrien Brody) begins hedging his bets, so to speak. The straight-faced dialogue is a comedic onslaught. While it's very much a playful, escapist interwar Europe, Anderson's story encounters the real world malevolence of the Third Reich and occupation. It's dealt with as this encroaching poison dissolving the etiquette and respect of the age.
The actors are in the orbit of one central gravitational force; Ralph Fiennes. His amazing concierge with a penchant for elderly clients has a sense of perfection that's adorable and frightening for his staff. His faux poetic genius and continual composition of poetic thoughts will just kill you. For an actor (and now director) with a resume littered with iconic performances, this may sound extreme, but it's unquestionably the performance of his career.
Tony Revolori is like a young Jason Schwartzman. He's required to be invisible as a lobby boy and he's got a face that you feel like you could confess to. It's that perfect protagonist for the audience to project themselves into. Revolori though has a hair trigger to defend the honour of those he loves, namely Saoirse Ronan's Agatha.
There may never be as good an ensemble of incredible character actors in the same film. The sheer talent, visual sensibility and sheer unbridled cuteness of the style draws these artists like moths to the quirky bonfire. Tilda Swinton shrouded in make-up as the ancient Madame D. gets the surprise packet of showing her unyielding sexual appetite. Willem Dafoe slinks around like a golem with Jaws-esque chompers as a hound for Brody's savage Dmitri. Jeff Goldblum brings some decorum, sophistication and his indefinable cool to proceedings as the lawyer Kovacs. F. Murray Abraham is sure to break your heart. Keep your eyes peeled for 'Andersonian' eye spy as regular collaborators Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Owen Wilson, Bob Balaban, Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel and new additions Léa Seydoux, Mathieu Amalric make even the most fleeting character leap off of the screen.
Indefinably rich and surely infinitely more rewarding on repeat viewings The Grand Budapest Hotel is a wonder.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by Wes Anderson Written by Wes Anderson (story/screenplay) & Hugo Guinness (story) Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Bill Murray,Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Léa Seydoux, Jude Law, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody , Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel, Tom Wilkinson, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Tony Revolori
Blake Howard is a writer, a podcaster, the editor-in-chief & co-founder of Australian film blog Graffiti With Punctuation. Beginning his criticism APPRENTICESHIP as co-host of That Movie Show 2UE, Blake is now a member of the prestigious Online Film Critic Society, sways the Tomato Meter with Rotten Tomatoes approved reviews. See his articulated words and shrieks (mostly) here at Graffitiwithpunctuation.com and with DarkHorizons.com & 2SER Sydney weekly on Gaggle of Geeks.