Film review: THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, from Built For Speed

There are a few swinging voters like myself but It seems most people either love or hate Wes Anderson’s supremely quirky picture-postcard fantasies.  His latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, is such a fun ride, however, that it may even seduce the detractors.

Like the antique dioramas Anderson often displays in his movies, this film reveals its story through several layers. A young woman in the present day reads a book from 1985 about the famed grand Budapest Hotel which lies in the fictional country of Zubrowka. We’re then taken back to 1985 where Tom Wilkinson plays a writer recalling his visit to the hotel in 1968.  Then in 1968 Jude Law plays the writer who encounters the hotel’s mysterious owner Zero Mustapha (F. Murray Abraham). Zero recounts with both elation and touching regret his introduction to the hotel in the early 1930’s (where he’s played by Tony Revolori) and its strange, maniacally efficient concierge Mr Gustave (Ralph Fiennes).  Earthbound logic deserts the film at this point as Mr Gustave, who has a sideline satisfying the needs of wealthy widows, is bequeathed a priceless painting buy one of his adoring customers Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), inadvertently making him a target for Madame D’s layabout son Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and his sinister henchman Jopling (Willem Dafoe).  The film just gets weirder from there with a multitude of intertwining subplots that include a romance, murder mystery and a prison breakout involving a bald tattooed Harvey Keitel.  It could have been an irritating mess but this wonderfully crazy film somehow holds together while hurtling along with an exhilarating energy.

The Grand Budapest Hotel features all the Wes Anderson trademarks: obsessively symmetrical framing, vibrant colours, ornate architecture and decoration, pompous authority figures having their dignity ruffled by children, lots of dead pan humour and faces staring blankly at the camera.  Added to that, Anderson even alters the aspect ratio of the screen to comply with that used in the film’s various time periods.  There’s a weirdly regimented quality to Anderson’s films that not only underscores their oddball humour but suggests a world and its inhabitants desperately adhering to prescribed beliefs and values.  The obsessive regimentation and symmetry is on display in this film perhaps more than in any other Wes Anderson movie yet some of the film’s funniest moments, occur when Anderson introduces chaos into Gustave’s ordered world which usually results in him having a screaming, obscenity-laden melt down.

Fiennes is superb in this film, playing Mr Gustave with gleeful enthusiasm and an almost disturbing sense of duty.  As his main foil, Revolori is a more conventional Anderson character, likeable, quirky and innocent but he is still fun to watch.  Almost as memorable as Fiennes is Willem Dafoe’s superbly evil hit man Jopling.  Dafoe plays the murderous, cat-hating Jopling with an unnerving relish.  There are, however, a few too many stars in this film with some of them such as Bill Murray appearing for a few tantalising seconds then vanishing. 

Like many of Wes Anderson’s films The Grand Budapest Hotel at first seems like an elaborate childish indulgence but persevere and the film reveals a sensitive almost melancholic quality as it despairs at human brutality and a dying age of manners.

Bizarre, lavish, fitfully hilarious and occasionally moving The Grand Budapest Hotel may be Wes Anderson’s best film yet.

Nick’s rating: ****

Genre: Comedy/ drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Wes Anderson.

Release date: 10th Apr 2014

Running time:  100 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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