Resident Motley film buff Kieran Doyle looks at Wed Anderson’s latest outing.
Wes Anderson’s eighth film, The Grand Budapest Hotel shows us the story of Ralph Fiennes’ M.Gustav, the charismatic concierge of the eponymous hotel. Through the eyes of various interpreters of the story, but mainly his newly employed lobby boy Zero Mustafa (Tony Revolori/ F. Murray Abraham), we follow the fearless Gustav as he inherits the renaissance pastiche Boy With Apple from a wealthy benefactor and former lover (Tilda Swinton) and his attempts to protect the artwork, his own life and that of his young charge from the nefarious scheming of the villainous Dimitri (Adrian Brody) and the psychopathic Joplin (Williem Defoe). The action takes in a prison escape, gerontophilia, a Hitchcock-inspired chase through a museum and an animated ski pursuit.
To describe this film as ‘quirky’ would be to do a disservice to the richness of atmosphere and setting that Anderson has created. More so than any of his other films, in which there is a clear delineation of the characters and the normal world which exists beyond them, in The Grand Budapest, the whole world has been fabricated to allow the uncanny and fantastic happenings of previous Anderson films to be experienced en-masse so that they come to be a part of the experience of the world, not apart from it. Anderson achieves this in a staggering variety of ways; commingling the two World Wars into a single fictional conflict which erupts in 1932; the setting in a familiar yet completely fictional historic central-European location and the utilisation of various film stocks across the times periods in which the film is variously set.
To describe this film as ‘quirky’ would be to do a disservice to the richness of atmosphere and setting that Anderson has created.
The aspect ratio changes according to the decade, a stylistic choice which may have been jarring in the wrong hands, but which is handled with finesse here, showing an acknowledgment that this is a film and is not trying to present anything other than a fiction. This is one of the more noticeable methods by which Anderson presents a gradual setup of artificiality which allows the director to later introduce elements of stop-motion animation, Giallo-inspired amputations and rear-projected car journeys without breaking far enough from the established world of the film as to be too distracting.
Following this gradual build-up of cinematic artificiality for 90 minutes, Anderson uses the method which arguably defines his filmic output, bringing the real world crashing back into the foreground. I won’t spoil the scene, but the effect is startling – a hallmark of Anderson’s cinema is that he counterbalances the buffoonery and weirdness with an ever present underlining of characters’ neuroses and comical affectations with tragedy and trauma, sobering scenes are mobilised to bring an element of humanity to characters that have spent the film making fools of themselves. This affords a dimension of psychological density to these characters and prompts a re-evaluation of their actions. If you’re at all familiar with his work you’ll know what I’m talking about. In The Grand Budapest this method is employed with such gruesome immediacy that it serves to underpin a broader tragedy outside of those experienced by the film’s characters and instead reaches into the real world, recalling at once one of Fiennes’ most celebrated performances, only this time he’s on the other end of the cold muzzle of injustice.
These are some of the reasons I liked the film, but this is self-indulgent interpretation from an already established fan of the director. So, if you’re just looking for something funny, genuinely delightful and completely different from a lot of the other films you’re going to see this year, I’d still recommend this wholeheartedly.