Director: Wes Anderson
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Jude Law, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Harvey Keitel, Tom Wilkinson, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Mendl’s pastries. This movie vastly exceeded and subverted my already very high expectations. Even when it kind of meanders– due to its potentially annoying flashback-within-flashback narrative structure– it does so gleefully and unpretentiously. It is darker than one might expect too; every curse word uttered helpfully grounds the more whimsical and fantastical elements. Vaguely European, vaguely historical, and undeniably epic, Anderson has given us a pastel-colored, madcap crime caper that is offbeat, funny, and sweepingly spectacular.
The film begins with a girl reading a book about The Grand Budapest Hotel, written by the deceased author whose grave she is visiting. This then leads us to 1985 when the author is beginning to tell us his story. This then leads us further back: to the 1960s, when a younger version of the author is at the hotel, where he hears the story he will eventually write. This funneling structure pays off eventually in the sense that it made the movie parallel– we funnel outward and forward again, ending where we began– and it makes the whole thing feel like a twisted kind of fairy tale. But it really was the only thing I didn’t love about the film; that, and the similarly haphazard, somewhat fragmented flashback structure within the author’s actual conversation with Zero, the lobby boy turned owner of Grand Budapest. Everything else, however, was basically flawless to me.
Zero tells his story of the legendary concierge Monsieur Gustave H., played by Fiennes. It takes place on the brink of some seemingly alternate universe’s version of World War II in an equally fictional part of Europe. The liberties taken with random accents and languages helps the film feel like a reverent farce, and every other detail serves to create an authentic but still highly imaginative form of nostalgia. Zero, or our (second) narrator Mr. Moustafa as he tells his story to the author, gets involved in a series of related misadventures, the plot constantly thickening with indulgent self-awareness, when one of Gustave’s elderly female companions dies (or is she murdered!). So, her sons, daughters, workers, the executor of the estate and (of course) Gustave are all embroiled in a battle for her fortunes as left in her will– if they can find the will she left in the event of her murder, that is.
The film treats its central murder-mystery with darkly comic joy and aesthetic excess. Everything from Dafoe’s performance as hit-man Jopling (who is basically creepiness-embodied), to a partly slapstick/partly actually violent jailbreak, to pseudo-Nazis, to a shoot-out all seem appropriately over the top. Again, Anderson is not re-writing European history here, but giving us a semblance of European history drenched in carefully-executed absurdism, with all the unbridled energy and style of an old-fashioned heist movie set to double speed.
The cast, color palate and framing are, as to be expected, impeccable. The overall tone then still feels very much in line with Anderson’s usual stuff, but there is something new here, something more masterful otherwise elevated– the scope is, to reference its title, grand, and the payoff is therefore even grander. I loved the way the aspect ratio changed depending on what time period we were seeing, and the way one part of it was even shot in black-and-white. I loved, overall, how daring and entertaining this film was, feeling like a quirky homage to so many things and yet emerging as something entirely and exquisitely unique– even for Wes Anderson.