Wes Anderson has been producing his unique brand of comedy and romance for about two decades, but The Grand Budapest Hotel still manages to offer a fresh look at humanity. Anderson’s work consistently provides a break from mainstream fare, but recently his films have garnered more popular support. In The Grand Budapest Hotel, the producer/writer/director uses his imagination to create a world of nostalgia and charm for his audience and ensures that the entire production supports his vision.
In the decrepit Grand Budapest Hotel, aged Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) tells his story of adventure to a writer. Years ago Moustafa worked as a lobby boy at the hotel, which was run by the eccentric but popular concierge, Gustave H., played with panache by Ralph Fiennes. When one of Gustave’s devoted clients, Madame D. (an almost unrecognizable Tilda Swinton) dies, he and Moustafa travel to her home. They contentiously take Boy with the Apple, a priceless painting left to Gustave by Madame D., and are hounded by Madame D.’s nefarious household. Stints in prison and countless train rides abound as Anderson weaves together a tale from very different times.
The impressive cast recalls Anderson’s past films, and whether the performances are cameos or lead the film, it is clear that the actors relish their outlandish roles. Fiennes in particular shows the comic skill he provided in In Bruges rather than the more serious side that audiences are used to. The ambiguity of Gustave is intriguing: his cursing playboy persona is at odds with the meticulous man whose primary interest is the hotel and eventually Zero. Tony Revalori’s performance as Zero is also perfect. This is Revalori’s debut as a lead in a feature film, but his work suggests we will see him again in the near future. Harvey Keitel and Edward Norton also bring very entertaining characters to the table.
The true merit of The Grand Budapest Hotel lies in the unique world it crafts. The painted backdrops and glorious production design are key to this. Art director Stephen O. Gessler and production designer Adam Stockhausen (who worked on the Oscar-winning12 Years a Slave) ensure that the film is harmonious with Anderson’s past work. Longtime Anderson collaborator Robert D. Yeoman also brings beauty and style with his cinematography. The fictional Republic of Zubrowka, in which the movie is set, exaggerates the film’s fantastical aspect. Furthermore, Anderson disregards factual consistency, as Revalori and Abraham, supposed to be the same person, don’t remotely look like each other. Rather than forcing similarity, Anderson and casting directors Douglas Aibel and Jina Jay decide to cast based on skill-this is perhaps a choice many directors should take note of. The cast members also retain their natural accents. Although this could be jarring, especially in reference to Saoirse Ronan’s Irish accent, it is the opposite as the audience is not preoccupied with awful attempts at doing an English or American dialect.
Although The Grand Budapest Hotel is a whimsical fantasy, it tackles emotional content and by the end develops into a film that portrays deep regret for Europe’s past. The “ZZ” (read: the SS) gains control of Zubrowka at the beginning of the movie and develops its power thoughout the film, lending a somber note to the ending. Although the theme of war and death is dealt with in Anderson’s usual quirky way, it is incredibly poignant as Anderson employs black and white photography to chronicle the changing atmosphere. The factual background of the film emphasizes this: the screenplay is based on the stories of Austrian author Stefan Zweig. In 1942, the writer and his wife killed themselves in despair over the turbulent situation in Europe. Although Anderson has imbued The Grand Budapest Hotel with his own style, he is clearly absorbed by Zwieg’s vision.
This film is visually striking and beautiful, but it also tells an entertaining story. Barney Pilling’s skillful editing is vital to this, and the cast and crew are clearly all committed to the film. Like all of his other films, however, The Grand Budapest Hotel can’t be mistaken for anything other than an Anderson creation. Looking at The Grand Budapest Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom, it appears Anderson is maturing and refining his talent-hopefully his future projects will remain committed to their level of nuance.