It is much more difficult to write a review of a good film than to write a review for a bad film. And if a film is great, so much more difficult. There are only so many ways to say something is SUPERB.
Wes Anderson’s new film “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is, I daresay, a RESPLENDENT film. It will end up on many “Best Of 2014” lists. I’m probably getting my hopes up too high, but to have one of the best films of the year released in early March must mean this will be a year filled with many more examples of greatness. Right? Right?
Anderson has a MASTERLY eye for detail. In each of his films, he introduces us to a very idiosyncratic group of people. And these people live in a very unique environment. Each of these places is designed down to the smallest detail by Anderson. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is no exception. Set in three distinct time periods, each period has unique elements designed to make us feel as though we are traveling through a time-warp.
Because the hotel is located in the Alps of an Eastern European country, three distinct eras are presented for us. The first is during the Cold War. At the height of Communism, the hotel is going through an austere phase; signs depicting the many rules in force are plastered everywhere the eye can see. Also, the hotel has seen better days with many necessary repairs receiving little or no attention. People still come to the hotel, because they have in the past and because they are visiting the area, but the numbers are very small and the hotel is struggling to stay afloat. Working backward, Anderson also shows us the Grand Budapest during the “War”. The Nazi-like party uses the hotel as a “headquarters”, splashing their insignia all over the still opulent hotel, using the grand establishment as a place for their officers to relax. But the story focuses on the Grand Hotel Budapest during it’s heyday, the late 30s, every surface awash in red, gold and pink velvet. This is the type of hotel where your every need is met; if you want a bon bon from the local bakery, it arrives at your doorstep in a few moments.
We have all seen films telling a story over different time-periods, and many of these are amazing, successfully transporting us to this era. But in a Wes Anderson film, all of this production design comes out of his head. His ideas and style touch every single item placed within our eyesight. And in “The Grand Budapest Hotel” all of this production design creates a SUMPTUOUS sight that is truly a beauty to behold.
Anderson’s consummate professionalism extends beyond the production design. Because of the critical acclaim heaped on his films, Anderson has achieved a rarified status as a director, leading actors to clamor to work with him. Many actors appear in film after film, forming a repertory company for the director. Others jump at the chance to work with him when asked. Why? Because their work in his films is often recognized as a SUCCESS giving them the acclaim they don’t normally get. In “Grand Budapest”, Ralph Fiennes takes the lead, playing M. Gustave, the legendary concierge at the hotel. Gustave is a true Anderson creation; unexpected, quirky, completely at ease in a strange, unusual world that is his domain. Fiennes as the consummate professional that is Gustave is a TRIUMPH; he knows his clients every desire and whim and this is why he has the reputation he has, leading his guests to return to the hotel time and time again.
When things start to go wrong for Gustave, he enlists the aid of his loyal assistant Zero (Tony Revolori) to help him and they begin an adventure leading them throughout the Alps.
The Anderson Repertory Company works together to create a performance that is a MASTERWORK. Jude Law, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, F. Murray Abraham, Tom Wilkinson, Edward Norton, Mathieu Amalric, Owen Wilson, Jeff Goldblum and Harvey Keitel all pop up giving this already unique and unusual landscape more interest. There are also a handful of character actors, part of the Anderson entourage, who pop up in a number of small roles, some so small that if you blink you would miss them, but if they weren’t there you would notice their absence because they need to be part of this story. Each member, no matter how small the role, adds a unique flavor to the overall ensemble. It is also exciting to see new people enter the fold and become a pert of the ensemble. Some of the actors in this film are Anderson veterans, others are virgins in this film, but you can be sure they will make more appearances in future projects.
Anderson crafts “Budapest” to be a homage to Euro-inspired comedies and dramas of the 30s. He even frames the film in an old-fashioned aspect ratio, giving “Budapest” the look of these old classics. The works of Stefan Zweig are also credited as inspiration. Zweig, who died in 1942, was a Hungarian writer who worked on many films in the 30s. Strangely, his IMDb profile shows that films and books are still being made from his works; a new Patrice Leconte film is also based on his writing. He was involved in many films, many of which are not that well known, but if you are a film fanatic, you have at least heard of them. These films were set in European countries and featured countesses and fading royalty dealing with their lives. When you look at the inspiration, it is easy to see the ties to this new Anderson film, and the quirkiness of the connection is also trademark Anderson.
Gustave is named in the will of Madame D. (Swinton), one of the many elderly, rich, female guests who frequents the Grand Budapest for the ‘personal’ attentions of M. Gustave. But her son, Dmitri (Adrien Brody), will not hear of it and accuses Gustave of many crimes. Dmitri and his hired gun, Jopling (Willem Dafoe) begin to follow and eventually chase Gustave and Zero throughout the Alps. Gustave realizes he must use his skills and the assistance of his friends to allude the two men and clear his name.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a delightful, unusual, quirky blend of humor and homage creating a TOUR DE FORCE, hopefully one of many we are likely to see this year. Right? Right?
Well, it looks like I was able to come up with EIGHT different ways to say GREAT. I should really try to come up with more… You go and see “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and I will work on that while you are gone. We’ll meet back here later.
Off you go…