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The Grand Budapest Hotel Movie Review: Fiennes-tastic!

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Jonny_Sweet_itcher_contributorThis latest offering from cult director Wes Anderson is at once endearingly simplistic and devilishly clever, combining a plot as intricate as the detailed sets which serve as its backdrop and gentle jokes as intimate as the protagonist’s relations with the elderly women who frequent his hotel. ~ Jonny Sweet

Zero May Be the Hero but Fiennes Out-Shines Him

An unabashed Wes-o-phile, I have already written several articles about Anderson’s back catalogue, including a run-down of all of the usual suspects who crop up time and again in his movies (including this one) and some alternatives in a similar genre to whet your appetite while you’re waiting for his next release… so naturally, I was delighted when itcher asked me to write another article on my favourite director; this time, The Grand Budapest Hotel movie review.

As you can probably imagine, I entered the cinema with high hopes… Wes didn’t disappoint.

Familiar Tropes in an Unfamiliar Setting

The film contains all of Anderson’s calling-cards, as pointed out with wonderful dexterity in this bingo article, from the over-elaborate sets to the eccentric characters to the twee costumes to the complex sub-plots.

Indeed, this may be said to be the most grounded in reality of all of Anderson’s films, with vague references to an unspecified central European war taking place in the surroundings of the fictitious Zubrowka, where the eponymous hotel is located.

Though the scenes where uncompromising soldiers barge their way onto the screen with uncharacteristic violence do bring a visceral jarring quality, the film still retains a mood of whimsy and light-hearted mischief throughout. This is due, in part, to the various tropes mentioned above; but largely due to the excellent performance of Ralph Fiennes in the lead role as the concierge of the hotel, M. Gustave.

As the mortar which holds together the bricks of the Grand Budapest Hotel, Gustave throws himself into his work by lecturing his fellow underlings on hotel etiquette (interspersed with his own flowery poetry), mentoring the narrator of the story Zero (a fantastic breakthrough role for Tony Revolori) and bedding octogenarian dowagers.

When one particularly infatuated dowager, Madame D. (played by Tilda Swinton, underneath layers of radically-transformative makeup and prosthetics), shuffles off her mortal coil, a tremendous brouhaha is sparked between her son (played by Adrian Brody, acting the dastardly-villainous offspring to a tee), his mercenary lap-dog (Willem Dafoe, whose chilling performance rivals that of his charismatic turn as Rat in Fantastic Mr. Fox) and a butler in the wrong place at the wrong time (Mathieu Amalric).

Before the dust has even settled upon the wealthy matriarch’s corpse, all hell breaks loose – making for a madcap caper involving prison breaks (complete with chisels concealed in confectionary, a silent but well-meaning behemoth of an inmate and the ever charismatic Harvey Keitel), epic chase scenes (combining retro motorcycles and the accompanying eyewear with off-piste winter slaloming), innumerable cameos from those listed in the article above (and others) and a plethora of delicate witticisms, sprinkled liberally with farce.

The Old Crew Back Together Again

The casting is flawless across the board, with Anderson showing his usual preference for the clutch of familiar faces whilst delivering another acting revelation in the form of Revolori.

At the same time, Anderson displays a contempt for certain cinematic conventions which only add to the humour. For example, none of his American (or British) actors attempt to put on any sort of European accent, despite the huge improbability of such a high concentration of foreigners being found in this diminutive fictional setting.

Similarly, the fact that Revolori’s skin colour is markedly different from the actor who plays the older version of the same character (F. Murray Abraham) is one that has seemingly gone unnoticed by the majority of The Grand Budapest Hotel film reviews on the web, but which seems to me another intriguing point.

Is Anderson casting in doubt the veracity of Zero’s identity? Of the unnamed author’s integrity? The very nature of storytelling itself? Or is he simply thumbing his nose at such conventions and laughing in the face of his own inconsistencies? The point is debatable; though I favour the latter.

Anderson often seems to prefer character exploration over plot development; consider the sprawling nature of the storylines in Bottle Rocket (1996), Rushmore (1998) and The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), for example.

With that in mind, The Grand Hotel Budapest could be seen as a departure towards a more plot-driven movie, with the murder mystery of Madame D. and Gustave’s subsequent incarceration providing the main impetus for its denouement.

However, it is also strangely anti-climactic. Or perhaps that is not the right word, since for a story to be anti-climactic it must first build towards an imagined climax; here, the action doesn’t so much build upward as career dangerously downhill, much like the wintry chase scene near the end of the film.

The final showdown was not the crescendo of the piece, but more an incongruous shoot-out in the cake-like opulence of the hotel itself that seemed to spring from nowhere.

This perceived lack of structure or pacing is what bars the movie from becoming my favourite of Anderson’s oeuvre; I didn’t anticipate the final scenes’ arrival and the movie was apparently over before I knew it.

That being said, the fact that the movie raced by without a pause for breath (but many pauses for quiet chuckling) is surely a merit in its own right.


Your Turn!!!

That was my Grand Budapest Hotel movie review… what about yours? Which characters did you like best? What lines were particularly memorable for you? And where does the film rank alongside Anderson’s other efforts?I’d genuinely love to hear your thoughts and discuss the finer points of this fine film below.

I′m Jonny, an English Literature graduate who decided careers and mortgages were too mundane, and travelling, film, music and books were much more enticing. I have recently made a very comfortable nest for myself in Santiago de Chile, and on itcher Mag where I regularly contribute eloquent waffle on all manner of media.
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