Featuring: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori (Zero), Tilda Swinton, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jude Law, Edward Norton, Bill Murray.
Director: Wes Anderson
Writer: Wes Anderson
Movie website: www.grandbudapesthotel.com/
Australian release date: April 10, 2014
Verdict: Classic comedy like they useta make, channeled through Wes Anderson in his inimitable style, and featuring a wonderful lead character wonderfully performed.
An English writer (Jude Law) spending some time on the Continent books in at the once elegant and celebrated but now rundown Grand Budapest Hotel, and gets talking to elderly owner Zero. Over dinner, Zero reminisces on the halcyon days of the hotel in the 30s, when as a young immigrant lobby boy (Tony Revolori) he was taken under the wing of eccentric concierge Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes). The sad old man relives his adventures, explaining via a long twisting chain of cause, effect and surprise revelations how he eventually came to own the hotel, and why he keeps it open despite its fall from glory to near-dereliction and few guests.
Wes Anderson’s unique and readily identifiable style is stamped all over this movie: the fictitious locale (the mountainous Republic of Zubrowka, somewhere in Europe); cameo appearances from a long list of notable actors (including Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Jude Law and Edward Norton); ornate set designs featuring a rich palette of colours that seem to be filtered through faintly sepia-toned lenses; and a mad-cap tragi-comic tale with off-beat characters, served with a spoonful or two of slapstick and silliness, and tempered with irony.
The central character, the larger-than-life Gustave, is irresistible, delectably blending old-world properness, etiquette and refinement with contemporary profanity and irreverence. He’s an actor’s gift, which Ralph Fiennes accepts with joyous appreciation, revelling in the role and stealing the movie. He has able accomplices – all the actors enjoy themselves, and the fun is contagious.
As concierge, Gustave runs the hotel with fastidious pride while romancing rich lady patrons on the side. One of these (a barely recognisable Tilda Swinton) dies in suspicious circumstances on returning home from a stay at the hotel, and leaves Gustave a valuable painting in her will, much to the outrage of her relatives. He is wrongly charged as her murderer and ends up in jail, but escapes with the help of Zero and his girlfriend Agatha. When a hidden second will is discovered, the price on Gustave’s head skyrockets…
These are but the bare bones of a convoluted tale, the coherence of which is assisted by unusually expansive voiceover narration passages that are superbly written and executed. In fact, these are a high point of the movie. Hard to believe of a device universally decried – mostly with sound justification – as a tired and lazy narrative stopgap or exposition fallback, but there you go.
The dominant tone is comedic, but a melancholy nostalgia runs through the work, enhanced by Anderson’s switching from wide-screen to a narrower early-cinema format for the main story, set decades earlier and told in flashback. Further, there is a wrenching contrast between the Grand Budapest Hotel of the past and present. While it is resplendent in its elaborately detailed circa 30s over-the-top opulence, its current-day state of decay points with tremulous determination to its glorious past – much like the elderly Zero as he relives his youthful prime through the telling of his tale.
There are chuckles aplenty and it’s a fun ride, but there is tragedy in the midst of the comedy, relegated to the incidental with a poignantly fatalistic air. And lurking in the background, as irrelevant as Gustave and co can make them, are dark forces gathering as Europe edges toward WW2.
If you are a Wes Anderson fan, you’ll adore The Grand Budapest Hotel. If not, give this one a go. He’s raised the bar way higher than ever before, and cleared the jump with some margin to spare. This is good ol’ comedy like they useta make, reworked in contemporary (Andersonesque) style, and featuring a wonderful lead character wonderfully performed.
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