Published Jun 17, 2014Wes Anderson's love letter to Europe is as excellent the second time around. It's certainly his best film since The Life Aquatic and yes, probably his best yet. That it begins as a story within a story suggests why.
Wes Anderson has always been concerned with style, but starting with Aquatic, it came at the expense of plot; the sight gags, visual majesty and character tics that used to provide the flourishes in his films had become the main event, weighing them down rather than lightening them. The Grand Budapest Hotel, by contrast, is a veritable caper, employing lovable characters — and the charming "candyass" M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), who is hands down Anderson's best — in service of a plot that careens at breakneck speed and commands audience attention from start to finish.
The story plumbs greater depths via allusions to World War II such as references to "fascist assholes" and occupation by the "ZZ," as well as a theme of lost innocence that runs throughout. "The faint glimmer of hope" that M. Gustave still finds in humanity at the film's beginning is gone, along with Gustave himself, by the film's end; "He," laments former Grand Budapest lobby boy Zero (F. Murray Abraham), "was one of them." It's a poignant way to end a film whose attention to detail and bits of humour — try not to smile when the door at Checkpoint 19 is not what you'd expect — make the melancholy pill easy to swallow.
Still, The Grand Budapest isn't about nostalgia for a better time, but the importance of love. When the in-film author (Jude Law) asks Zero if he keeps the hotel as a "last connection to a vanished world," he responds that he keeps it "for Agatha"; it's love in the world, Anderson seems to suggest, not the physical world itself, that keeps it a beautiful place.
A Blu-ray bonus feature segment in which Bill Murray tours the set and the town where Budapest was filmed is cute though inessential, but the "vignettes" — a short in which the author discusses the historical context of the Grand Budapest alongside a slideshow of old photos and props, a documentary about the Society of the Crossed Keys and a how-to for making a Mendl's dessert — are definitely worthwhile. A 20-minute making of, a stills gallery and a theatrical trailer are nice too, but it's the film itself that makes The Grand Budapest Hotel worth buying.
(Twentieth Century Studios)