The Grand Budapest Hotel Reviews
The Grand Budapest Hotel is equally meticulous in its craft, but is a much better vehicle for Anderson. Its status as a caper comedy places a much more conscious emphasis on the various plot machinations, allowing him to show off his knowledge of and affection for cinema without undermining or overshadowing his characters. The result is a very funny slice of finely-tuned frivolity which finds Anderson almost back to his best.
As with all of Anderson's work, The Grand Budapest Hotel looks absolutely beautiful. There is the same powdery quality to the colour scheme as in Moonrise Kingdom, but the emphasis has shifted from summery yellows and woody browns to darker, more regal blues and frothy pinks. Anderson's compositions are as meticulous as ever, and the film utilises many of his familiar tricks, such as symmetrical wide shots, carefully timed circular pans and quirky model shots.
As with all of Anderson's films, however, there are unusual narrative quirks which can sometimes threaten to make the experience too arch and alienating to bond with the characters. In this case, there is his device of handing over the telling of the story from one person to another. The film begins with a lady reading a book in front of a statue of Tom Wilkinson; then Wilkinson (the author of the book) hands over to Jude Law (his younger self); then Law talks to F. Murray Abraham, who finally begins to recount his memories.
It's easy to understand the point that Anderson is making through this device. He is positively besotted with the art of storytelling and is trying to convey that love through a visual medium rather than a literary one. There's also a sly nod with the casting of Abraham, since Amadeus employed a similar device of its main character recounting the story in his old age. But while this device is affectionate, it is not entirely necessary to the story being told, and your enjoyment therein will depend on whether you regard it as an apt demonstration of passion or a needless indulgence.
To some extent, this dilemma is presented in the visuals of the film. While the main action takes place in the early-1930s, with the horrors of World War II still far away, the introduction takes place in the late-1960s. Interwar opulence and luxury is counterpointed with Soviet-era functionality, and by repeating mechanical actions in both periods (such as the strange transport to the hotel), an air of decline and melancholy quickly descends upon proceedings.
Having created an intriguing mood, Anderson gives us a number of quirky, interesting characters with whom we bond and whom we find very funny. Much of the praise has deservedly centred on Ralph Fiennes, who is absolutely brilliant as Gustave H.. The performance works because he believes so deeply in the character on a dramatic level; Fiennes' chops give Gustave a weight and purpose which an out-and-out comic actor would not have achieved. It's an irresitible blend of whimsy, pathos, elegance and mischief, and may be one of the best performances of Fiennes' illustrious career.
As I mentioned in my Moonrise Kingdom review, much of the pleasure of Anderson's films comes from him getting performances out of actors that no-one would have expected. It's not too much of a stretch to have Willem Dafoe as a thug in knuckle-dusters, or Jeff Goldblum as a stuffy, by-the-book lawyer (who ends up losing his fingers). But it is a pleasant surprise to see Adrian Brody as the villain of the piece, or Tilda Swinton as Gustave's elderly lover whose death sets off the entire caper.
In executing the caper aspect of the film, Anderson plays a very crafty trick. The quirkiness of his characters leads us to accept that they will speak in a manner which is different to our own; we accept this within the first five minutes as part of the overall style. This quirkiness allows him to have characters delivering exposition at break-neck speed, and yet it feels like a long joke rather than plot details.
There are numerous scenes in The Grand Budapest Hotel which are just characters reciting plot exposition directly to camera, something that would have been roundly lambasted had the film been helmed by another director. But rather than do as Alfred Hitchcock did and "sugar-coat" exposition with suspense, Anderson deliberately draws attention to it and uses it to celebrate the caper genre in all its ridiculousness. It's not so much hidden in plain sight as a Brechtian device, with the film constantly reminding you of its artificiality.
This is further reflected in the film's set-pieces. Take the hysterically funny sledging sequence, in which Gustave and Zero chase Jopling down a slalom course and ski jump, ending with Zero flinging Jopling off a cliff. The close-ups are achieved with the Hollywood technique of back projection, while the aerial shots are consciously done with detailed scale models. It's arguably just a massive Hitchcock reference, looking back to the skiing scene in the opening of The Man Who Knew Too Much.
Like Bertolt Brecht's work, The Grand Budapest Hotel draws our attention to the artificial, mechanical nature of the story in order to illuminate some deeper, universal truth. On top of being a great, frothy caper, the film is about the passing of an age and with it a particular kind of character. Gustave is characterised throughoutt as being the last of a breed, someone already out of sorts in his own time and longing for release. The film presents its own fictional take on the build-up to World War II, with Gustave coming across like a lighter, more dandyish companion to Christopher Tietjens, the protagonist of Parade's End.
The true success of Anderson's film is that it allows you to enjoy it on whichever level you please. It operates on the same principle as Gladiator: it is both a philosophical exploration of death, morality and a life beyond this, and two hours of people hitting each other. You can read into The Grand Budapest Hotel's colour schemes, seeing the pink motif as a symbol of faded passion and sexuality, or you can just sit there laughing louder and louder at the brilliant action. Both responses are valid, and while the film is not as deep as Gladiator, it deserves praise for achieving this balance.
The Great Budapest Hotel sees Anderson returning to form, delivering a film whose whimsy and quirkiness is anchored and balanced by enjoyable, empathetic characters. While some will still balk at his approach to storytelling, and it isn't as thematically rich as perhaps it could have been, it is still an immensely enjoyable, funny and rewarding watch. It is a good way to introduce newcomers to Anderson's signature style, and is one of the most enjoyable films of 2014.
During the 1960's, a young author (Jude Law) visits The Grand Budapest Hotel - one of Europe's most respected establishments. He meets it's owner M. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) who tells him of when he was a young lobby boy (Tony Revolori) and how he came to know the colourful and flamboyant M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and the adventures they shared in the hotel.
As much as Anderson's style is so well known now, so too is the consistent ensemble of actors that he's able to amass. All-be-it in cameo roles, his most reliable trio from the early days of his career in Wilson, Schwartzman and Murray are here, once again. His mid-career actors like Goldblum, Dafoe and Brody make further appearances while Swinton, Norton and Keitel add themselves to the mix again following "Moonrise Kingdom". Their roles may be small but no matter how small, it's still great to see such a wonderful ensemble of actors all get the chance to interact. However, it's the newcomer in Fiennes that's the main focus and the true star of the show. His performance is endearing and his comic-timing absolutely note perfect. His ability to accentuate a simple word of profanity can, at times, produce some genuinely hilarious moments. After witnessing his work here and his darker comedic turn in "In Bruges" it would seem that Fiennes is just as comfortable with comedy as he is with drama. I'd definitely welcome him flexing more of his comedic chops in the future.
Another one who plays a major role in the proceedings is Robert Yoeman. No Wes Anderson review would be complete without mentioning the sublimely colourful work of this fantastic cinematographer. The film is a real feast for the eyes and as Anderson maintains a brisk pace while juggling numerous characters, Yoeman allows him to create his illusion on a wondrous palette of delicacies.
It's fast. It's intricately layered. It has a slight edge of darkness. Ultimately, though, it's entertaining - as Anderson so often is. Many have declared it his best film and although I don't agree, I wouldn't argue with it being his most ambitious. 9 Academy Awards (although a glaring omission for Fiennes) is further proof that he hasn't ran out of ideas or that his approach has become tiresome. There seems to be life in Anderson yet and I still find myself wondering and intrigued by what his next adventure will be.
Luckily this movies theme and visual direction grabbed my attention...well mainly the visuals. The story begins with flashbacks within flashbacks as a young girl starts to read from a memoir written by the 'author' (Tom Wilkinson). The memoir recounts a tale about a trip he made to the Grand Budapest Hotel back in 1968, the younger version of the author played by Jude Law. The young author meets up with the aging hotel owner played by F. Murray Abraham and they discuss how he became the owner. This in turn leads to another flashback to 1932 as we see the young hotel owner as a lobby boy under the tutelage of the hotel concierge played by Ralph Fiennes.
The movie is basically a Germanic/eastern European wartime murder mystery split into five chapters. An wealthy elderly hotel guest dies and leaves Fiennes character (Gustave) a valuable painting much to the anger of her odious money grabbing relatives. It is then discovered the old woman has been murdered and Fiennes is a prime suspect. What follows from there is a madcap vintage slapstick of a black comedy as we tag along with Gustave and his lobby boy Zero as they attempt to evade dangerous relatives, soldiers and prison (long story short).
So as I said for me this movie grabbed my attention through its unique visual style which kinda reminded me of classic murder mysteries but in a very Germanic sense. You could maybe drawn comparisons to the comedy 'Clue'? visually at least...kinda. The actual hotel surrounding background and the funicular are a highly detailed models which are based on real locations in the Czech Republic (the hotel anyway). I adored these models because they simply looked fantastic, admittedly obvious models but that's the appeal...it looks like a model railway set. The cold snowy terrain and weather really gives this movie a warm cozy atmosphere, the cutesy models, highly decorative traditional interior sets (very continental) and characters that look like your old relations all combine to give this almost Christmas glow to the proceedings...or it could just be me.
This sumptuous visual flair is helped along by the colour scheme of certain sequences such as the hotel being a light shade of pink making it look like a large cake. The interiors are also bright and colourful as are the staff uniforms in that classic 30's style. The fact that young Zero's girlfriend also works at the local bakery making fluffy mouth-watering pastel coloured baked treats almost feels like Anderson is teasing us. On top of that the bakery van is also a deliciously looking light shade of pink making you literately think of nothing but pink icing marshmallows and cakes! Its tantamount to torture I tells ya!
On the flip side the fictional war aspect of the tale which is set in between the two great wars (1932) clearly looks and feels like WWI but it isn't...I don't think. Despite the whimsical vibe there are still beatings murder and oppression in some forms in the latter half of the movie, nothing hideous but enough to jolt you out of your cozy spot. I guess the real problem for me was the casting...yes that's right the casting. The movie is based around European aristocracy, puffed up rich continental types with fat moustaches that you'd normally see living currently in certain areas of north London. The issue is they are all played by very American actors and it doesn't really gel half the time.
Fiennes is easily the best thing going here and he fits his role perfectly with his own upper crust upbringing. His performance is both charming and amusing with his suave debonair persona as he greets and sucks up to the guests...then all of a sudden blammo!...he'll drop an F-bomb outta nowhere...brilliant! Kudos also to his sidekick played by Tony Revolori who looks just the ticket as the young alert lobby boy, dude looks like Penfold (Danger Mouse). There are various other decent performances throughout (too many cast members to mention) but its the odd characters played by Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson (basically the entire American cast) that just don't work. The only American that does slot in well is Dafoe as the assassin who basically looks like Count Orlok once again...so yes that fits into this era and region perfectly.
These characters are meant to be Europeans in a small landlocked alpine country...yet they have American accents! plus some of these stars don't really do a great job performance wise either. You do get the impression Anderson revels in collecting a large glittering ensemble cast that looks stunning on paper and the movie posters but don't necessarily fit the bill. Plus I also get the impression Anderson kinda likes to play dress up with these big stars and not worrying so much about their characters, after all this whole movie does tend to look like an illustrated children's book or an explosion from within a toy box (with layers of pink icing on top).
Essentially the story is about greed I guess, on the surface everything seems sweet and pleasant but dig down and really everybody is a bit of a shit and not to be trusted...including Gustave to a degree. I'm not even sure if I liked any of the characters really, I suppose the lobby boy is our (the viewers) most trusted ally. In the end the movie ends on a happy note or so you think, Anderson finally slaps you across the face as the very ending is actually quite sad and grim like some kind of children's fairytale. Its an odd one for sure, starts off like as a feel good flick...visually looking like everything is taking place within a snow globe, but slowly grinds you down until you feel like sobbing at the finale. I still can't really decide if I actually liked it or not, its certainly well made directed and crafted but its not what I thought it would be. I must give kudos to Anderson for his creation and storytelling (even though it all feels a tad ostentatious) but I still can't help but feel somewhat empty and emotionless towards it even though I really really wanted to love it.
Good Film! In this film, director Wes Anderson creates his own universe, full of colourful characters, old-world charm and witty one-liners. The nice thing about creating your own universe is that you can make it look perfect. Every shot, every little detail and every set is flawless. Ralph Fiennes steals the show as the sophisticated Gustave H., who never despairs, even in the most unfavourable circumstances. He is supported by a large number of star actors, who are sometimes almost unrecognizable. Because of the amount of support actors, some of them are a bit underused. Tilda Swinton gets rather little screen time, as does Harvey Keitel. The film moves forward at a breakneck speed. You have to be very alert in order not to miss something. The plot is not always very easy to follow, and the dialogue is fast. And there are the great camera angles and the wonderful detailed sets to pay attention to. I think by seeing the film a second time you can discover lots of things you didn't notice the first time.
GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL recounts the adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. The story involves the theft and recovery of a priceless Renaissance painting and the battle for an enormous family fortune -- all against the back-drop of a suddenly and dramatically changing Continent.
In short, a wonderfully uplifting work.
What sticks out in this film is not only how his focus on quirky storytelling juxtaposes many of the darker occurrences of Gustave's tale, but also how it was acknowledged from Zero's recollection as a fantasy. That the beauty, charm, and humor that we were all enjoying was simply in a man... too "civil" for this world.
It's an interesting character study of illusion and one's ability to create a veil of existence that's even contagious to those around him. The idealized romance between Zero and Agatha, successful escape from prison, reclamation of his innocence and rise to fortune was all just so slightly mired with murder, sacrifice, and untimely deaths all around. It's like a careful dance between a dream and actuality.
I recall 2012's "Life of Pi", where I feel that movie failed this succeeded by utilizing a comedic undertone to capture the viewer's imagination before deconstructing it's beauty with harsh realities. There's an endless supply of offbeat laughs and thrills before we're brought to a cathartic conclusion.
After Moonrise Kingdom disappointed me a bit I'm relieved to say The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of Anderson's best and fans of his work will most definitely enjoy it. Those who aren't? Just the same.