Imaginative writer-director, Wes Anderson has done it again. Another stylish flick injected with comedy, stellar performances and glistening visuals.
The magical storyline of The Grand Budapest Hotel sees gentlemanly concierge Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes) embroiled in an elaborate conspiracy to steal priceless painting Boy With Apple.
His accomplice? Impressionable lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) whose previous hotel experience and family connections are non existent.
The affection between this almost absurd pairing is made genuine by the sublime performances of Fiennes and Revolori who skilfully play with the subtleties in Anderson’s sharp and witty screenplay.
Set in the imaginative country of Zubrowka, the film’s backdrop highlights the rise of Communism in Eastern Europe and the spread of Nazi fascism. Anderson’s imaginative narrative begins by taking us back through time in a series of stages - we see an author’s memorial statue, then the author as an old man, the author as a young man and so on until we reach the gem of a plot starring Gustave H and Zero.
Inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig, Anderson’s brief and seemingly elaborate framing device not only highlights the melancholy effects of time and the impacts of Communism, but hints at the nature of storytelling and works as an homage not only to Zweig but to all writers.
Yet, where the rambling chase narrative of Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom made it a somewhat incoherent viewing experience, The Grand Budapest Hotel never flinches in its storytelling direction, despite having a similar pursuit theme. It’s something that’s due in part to Gustave’s single, clear objective, the film’s solid characterisation and the strength of its lead performances.
Ralph Fiennes is a delight as Gustave H, the concierge with a fondness for older ladies, manners and musk, L’Air De Panache. In one of his amusing sermons to the Hotel’s staff, Gustave describes rudeness as ‘fear’ that can be cured with a little love. Invariably polite, Fiennes delivers the most well-mannered swearing you’re likely to hear on the big screen.
Equally enchanting as the young Zero, Tony Revolori, brings a charming purity to his breakthrough role. Despite casting Anderson first timers in the movie’s two leads, along with a sparkling Saoise Ronan as Zero’s love interest, The Grand Budapest Hotel is also a tour de force of previous Anderson collaborators - Adrien Brody, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Edward Norton and Tilda Swinton all make striking, if very brief, appearances.
There’s no escaping that The Grand Budapest Hotel is brimming with Anderson’s in-your-face styling that divides audiences into love or hate camps. Yet the power of this schismatic director to bring the magic of imagination to the big screen is one of his greatest achievements and The Grand Budapest Hotel is no exception.
You only need to glance at a handful of the film’s stills to notice the vivid colour schemes - the bright red of the elevator, the bold purple of the uniforms and the candy pink of the hotel’s facade evocative of muted old postcards. Whether it revels in the mechanical joy of the Hotel’s funicular railway, the extreme long shots of grand landscapes that put its central characters in silhouette, or the jerky, sped up camera style of a snowy chase scene reminiscent of old silent movies, The Grand Budapest Hotel feels like a spellbinding peek into Anderson’s imagination. And isn’t that something any self respecting director should aim for?
Add to that the blink and you’ll miss them details - the hotel’s elaborate external paint job reduced to stark, concrete grey, symbolising its years in decline, or the glimpse of Communist newspaper title The Daily Fact - and The Grand Budapest Hotel compels you to take in a second viewing.
Audiences are immersed in Anderson’s dexterity with dynamic shots too. Mid shots of the face and torso flick rapidly between characters in conversation. When we do see more than one character in a shot, they’re usually in profile, lending The Grand Budapest Hotel an animated, exuberant mood. Anderson’s eye for framing a shot is unparalleled. The Grand Budapest Hotel sees him once again play with symmetry, enhancing the film’s feeling of imagination, while revealing the hidden depths of his characters through background details. The result is an energetic and spirited movie that mesmerises with its sheer vigour.
The delightful soundtrack from Alexandre Desplat that blends whimsy and melancholy as it draws influence from silent, continental movie scores of old, is the finishing touch in this Anderson masterpiece.
Whether you see his choices as whacky or whimsical, Anderson’s films carry a distinctive stamp that make for an imaginative and unmissable viewing experience. To top that off, The Grand Budapest Hotel feels like the finest example of an Anderson film so far. For Wes Anderson first-timers, there’s no better place to start.
Running Time: 110 minutes