The Grand Budapest Hotel is a film about existing outside of your own time. It’s a foray into that meandering though we sometimes have: “I was born in the wrong decade.” And it’s a theme perfectly suited to the ever-nostalgic director Wes Anderson.
With typical quirk Anderson’s latest unfolds as a story within a story within a story, the meat of which concerning Zero, played fantastically by Tony Revolori, who continues the trend of brilliant young leads started in Anderson’s previous effort, Moonrise Kingdom.
Zero is a lobby boy at the titular hotel under the tutelage of Ralph Fiennes’ M. Gustave H., the hotel’s legendary concierge. Gustave is lavish and gallant, a sort of servant-class Gatsby in his own way, with a penchant for boning old ladies that sets the events of the film in motion.
The rest of the cast is rounded out by Saoirse Ronan (Agatha), Jude Law (Young Writer) F. Murray Abraham (Mr. Moustafa) and a pantheon of Anderson mainstays from Bill Murray to Jason Schwartzman.
The sprawling cast bounce off one another against an allegorical backdrop for the buildup to World War II in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka. It’s an eccentric and hilarious story that relishes the off-beat. In fact, there are so many laugh out loud moments in Grand Budapest Hotel that if you don’t stop to think about it the film’s imposing darkness might elude you. There is a sense of wonder, a sense of humor and a peculiar sense of innocence to this movie, but there’s also a prevailing preoccupation with death as the world takes one final breath before plunging into unprecedented, unspeakable conflict.
It’s a story that could have very easily been told in the bleak and gritty tones of modern cinematic sensibilities. Perhaps you could argue that the narrative itself would be more poignant and riveting that way. But Anderson sticks to his style and for my money the movie as a whole is better because of it, even if poignancy gives way to idiosyncrasy.
Gustave is described as a man born after his own time and in that way he is very much an avatar of Anderson himself, whose filmmaking sensibilities don’t often jive with the bleak sense of realism pervasive in movies today.
Where gunfights in film today tend to strive for tactical accuracy, the gunfight in Grand Budapest Hotel is blatantly silly and more concerned with pointing out just how ludicrous the notion of a shootout is. Where third world political strife is often the focal point of film these days, in Grand Budapest Hotel it serves as nuance. Anderson even goes so far as to film a majority of the film in a fullscreen aspect ratio, more concerned with the precise angles and symmetry that give his films such a distinct flavor than extravagant, IMAX 3D cinematography.
There are moments in Grand Budapest Hotel when viewers may find Anderson’s style to odd for its own good, but as always, he uses the film to tell a story in a way that no other modern director would, or could.
1. Have you ever stayed in a hotel?
2. Have you ever stayed in a motel?
3. What’s the difference?