Wes Anderson’s movies are like carefully crafted homemade plays, from his very first Bottle Rocket (1996) which blended gangster film and Catcher in the Rye in a unique, heartwarming way, all through his latest, the sweet and decadent The Grand Budapest Hotel.
One could argue that the prolific director has a penchant for stories about loneliness and the search for identity is something that underlies all of his work. The protagonists in The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) and The Darjeeling Limited (2007) all come from dysfunctional families with strong parental figures, that either neglected or abandoned their children, leaving them to ponder who they are and where they belong.
In The Grand Budapest Hotel, the two main characters, Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes in fine comedic form), the concierge, and Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), the lobby boy, both turn out to be orphaned, or with no family to speak of. Their bond comes from their mutual loneliness, perhaps, and they are given purpose by the hotel which in its heyday in the 1930s welcomed characters from all over Europe.
Perhaps Anderson’s most elaborate effort ever, The Grand Budapest Hotel is also his kitschiest, elevating his work to pure mastery, because a Wes Anderson film is more a demonstration of craftsmanship than anything else. It combines baroque inelegance with historical allusions and stereotypes about the Old Continent, and it does so with multiple narrative and technical devices such as jumping back, forth, and sideways in time and occasional stop-motion animation, among others. Anderson depicts Europe the way it is seen in the American imagination: as never changing and made up of sensual pleasures and pastries, strict manners and well-calibrated speech.
The careful viewer will also notice that the aspect ratio changes depending on the time period in which the story is told, fitting the standard of the time depicted. The Grand Budapest Hotel also blurs all lines between accents and nationalities: no two characters speak the same way, thus making the film a continental tale of sorts. Notice how actors like Harvey Keitel and Edward Norton speak in their normal voices while Ralph Fiennes sounds like an actor from the 1930s, and Adrien Brody tries an Eastern European accent.
In terms of casting, Fiennes is unmistakable as the suave and well-mannered Gustave H, the devoted hotel concierge who likes “whores and alcohol” just as much as he loves being the sexual hero of 80 year-old blonde aristocratic women. When one of his long-time friends and lovers is found murdered (an unrecognizable Tilda Swinton) Gustave H inherits a beautiful Renaissance painting and gets in trouble with the deceased’s grotesque and greedy children, led by Dmitri (Adrien Brody). From here on commences an adventure that involves an escape from prison, murder, a huge family fortune, a wedding, and a very intense ski chase, all at the backdrop of war and change in Europe. While most of the characters are but marginal distractions to keep the story moving, Gustave H, and therefore Fiennes, commands the screen. The rest come as visions or caricatures, thus adding ornamentation to Anderson’s elaborate dreamlike tale.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is an unmistakable masterpiece and a testament to Anderson’s unique auteur voice. With a dynamic cast, (Saoirse Ronan, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Léa Seydoux, F. Murray Abraham, Jude Law, Willem Dafoe, etc.) an eye for the minutest detail, and an elaborate story, it is easily his best work and definitely the first important film of 2014.
By Radina Papukchieva