“You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughter house that was once known as humanity”. If there was ever a quote to sum up the films of Wes Anderson, this would be high on the list. Highly inventive, absurd, and at times, narratively incoherent, Anderson’s eighth feature film is a grand, accommodating feature whose self is probably not as grand as the cast it has rounded out.
From Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Kietel, Bob Balaban, Saoirse Ronan, Lea Seydoux, to regulars Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman and of course Bill Muarry, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a formidably full house of A-list actors who happily lend their skills to the highly inventive and immensely visual Anderson. Aside from the wholly impressive cast, is the quirky and unmistakably unique vision of Anderson himself.
If you haven’t been fortunate enough to experience a Wes Anderson film yet, you are surely missing out on one of the most elaborate, detailed, and symmetrical styles of film-making ever known. Anderson’s style, renown and admired by many, may very well be the American indie art-house King and The Grand Budapest Hotel may very well be his grandest and most admirable spectacle yet–although it may not be his most engaging or beloved.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is an empirical picture, in every sense of the word. Throughout his career as a writer/director, Anderson has defined and refined his vision to the point that every heist; every adventure; or every group of individuals, can easily be distinguishable, as if their existence could only be understood within an Anderson film. The essence of the characters within The Grand Budapest, as well as his overall vision, is creatively maintained thanks to the purity of the scenarios and wackiness of the characters Anderson houses, in whatever setting it may be. For decades now, Anderson has bequeathed to film-lovers everywhere and audiences’ alike, a signature style unlike any other.
There are countless films where the characters have come secondary only to the immense and elaborate setting they are placed in. For example, in many films urban settings; New York City has played a pivotal role (see: Shame and Annie Hall), The Wild West (see: The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Unforgiven), and exotic locales within Europe set the landscape for timeless stories of intrigue, lust, love and tragedy (see: Vicky Cristina Barcelona and The Bicycle Thief.). In Anderson’s world, although many of his settings are within the very real world we live in today, sublets of his world are envisioned within our world, and in essence, these locales become the greatest character of them all, housing very small, intricate tales of the people whose stories are shared in its presence. The setting this time, is none other than the Grand Budapest. A hotel, that houses the highly empathetic new lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori) and his journey to becoming the irreplaceable sidekick to the one and only infamous concierge M. Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes). Among the many other patrons of the hotel and each of their individual secrets, tall tales, and life memories, Anderson centres the film around a priceless painting, now put in the hands of Gustave thanks to death of M. Gustave’s latest deceased romance, the mysteriously elder Madame D (an unrecognizable Tilda Swinton). What transpires, is an array of fantastical plot schemes and recanted storytelling that may only make sense when mentioning the name of Wes Anderson.
Like any other Anderson film, the stories are only secondary to their execution. Anderson’s films are the closet things to mathematical proofs, where the process of plot-making comes first before the final, usually predictable and happy outcome. Anderson may have come off one of his most cherished screenplays with his last film Moonrise Kingdom, and The Grand Budapest Hotel may in no way trump it, but thankfully, it never tries. Instead, after exploring the unfathomable bond between young lovers, Anderson penetrates deep and long the affections of friendship and the importance of patronage within the industry of service and hospitality. Surprisingly this is a theme that he has yet to encounter, especially after his beloved muse and frequent collaborator Kumar Pallana passed and served as nothing less than a staple to the Anderson cannon. Think of The Grand Budapest Hotel as a large and completely dysfunctional family taking care of you, much like Anderson’s earlier work The Royal Tenenbaums, only this time, imagine them slotted at the other end of a hotel reception desk.
In recent superhero films, including the abysmal Spider-Man 3, some of studios biggest let-downs are due to saturation of talent. Many directors, usually overwhelmed with fitting in actors, story lines, and significant narrative points, are unable to tend to the large range of highly versatile skills many character actors possess. But, as seen with his raw and disturbing state of family life, Anderson has a natural knack for understanding and using large casts to his advantage. Never taking up more screen time than needed, each face, each actor and each role is given its due diligence and serves a purpose, always elevating the unbelievability of his stories. His characters are merely caricatures of the people Anderson imagines, and it can only be seen that we, as an audience, are allowed a faint glimmer inside this imagination.
The Grand Budapest Hotel truly lives up to the Anderson name. As incredibly talented and always enigmatic, the work of this visual artist/filmmaker, will continue to be studied, analyzed and understood, well beyond his death. Anderson is mostly concerned with the indulgence of life. Thankfully, using his neon bright cast to highlight a dull and ubiquitous story of hidden secrets and falsification, new light is shed on a world and a man whose purity and pleasure in movie making art, is like the enjoyment of a fine French pastry.
Night Film Reviews: 7 Stars Out of 10.
Is The Grand Budapest Hotel the best Anderson film to date? Whose performance was your favourite, if any? Will you be checking-into the Grand Budapest anytime soon, or steer clear from this ancient indie gem?