Published Mar 13, 2014While critics revel in pointing out his stylistic similarities to directors like Jean Luc Godard and Federico Fellini, Wes Anderson, in essence, has always seemed more like a novelist trapped in a beautifully tailored filmmaker's besuited body. His trademarks are of more style than substance; Anderson is more concerned with the devil in the details than the kind of visual and narrative allegories that preoccupy other auteurs. But cinematic authority can only get you so far without a good story (case in point: the once critically acclaimed yet currently waning Moonrise Kingdom).
Inspired by the work of 20th century novelist and playwright Stefan Zweig, The Grand Budapest Hotel reimagines what it would have been like if Anderson had picked up a pen instead of a film camera, choosing to channel his Dickensian taste for minutiae into a truly mythopoeic dream world of decorative dalliances and sartorial set pieces.
Because of this, it's suitable that the film starts from the perspective of "the Author" (played for the majority of the film by Jude Law), an elderly man in his twilight years who chooses to retell a chapter from his memoir for an in-home documentary crew. As a young man at the height of his literary and journalistic career, our particularly poetic penman recounts a chance encounter at the extremely ornate Grand Budapest Hotel (which, in pure Andersonian fashion, is not located in Hungary, but the fictional Republic of Zubrowka). It's here our writer meets the adult version of M. Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the owner of the hotel and onetime Jr. Lobby Boy-in-Training. As a young man, he came to the Budapest to learn under the great tutelage of one M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), a fanciful concierge known throughout the land for his always charming customer service and equally insatiable appetite for elderly women. But after Gustave is wrongly accused of murdering the charitable countess Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), the two must flee their adopted homeland in an attempt to prove his innocence.
Set in an alternate Europe pre-World War II, The Grand Budapest Hotel undoubtedly feels likes Anderson's most European film to date, due in part to its myriad filming locations around the Saxony. Even the historic hotel, with its flamingo pink sidings and mountain ridge surroundings, feel as if it was pulled straight out of a Roald Dahl book (albeit one that reimagines him as the author of a prequel to The Shining).
But what really sets this movie apart from Anderson's previous work are the characters and actors who play them. Whether it's Fiennes as the Willy Wonka-meets-Mae West Monsieur Gustave, or Willem Defoe as the devil-may-care assassin Jopling, each character, no matter how big or small, is allowed ample space to gestate in Anderson's poetic surroundings; even Bill Murray, here in his seventh feature with the director, captivates, if only briefly, as fellow concierge-in-arms M. Ivan.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all is not the all-star cast — which also includes Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum and Harvey Keitel — but its least heralded actor, Tony Revolori. Acting as the young Zero, Revolori seems right at home nestled amongst the hotel's star-studded guests, delivering his lines with an entirely deadpan sense of humor and use of comedic timing. In some ways, similarities can be drawn between Revolori's character and those of Moonrise Kingdom's Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward). But while Kingdom exploited its leads' youthful flaws to bring out a sense of whimsy and naiveté, Revolori's uneven portrayal of Zero, especially when examined next to the overly romantic wordplay and frivolity of Fiennes' Gustave, seems like such an unlikely casting choice that it allows viewers a meta-ability to see what it would be like to be an actor on the set of the film itself.
Ultimately, it's that meta-movie experience that leaves viewers with a lasting impression. Anderson may not always be the cinematic mastermind everybody wants him to be, but the self-aware The Grand Budapest Hotel is certainly his masterpiece.