D: Wes Anderson / 100m
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Léa Seydoux, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson
There’s nothing quite like a Wes Anderson movie, and each one that comes along is a reason to hang out the bunting, crack open the bubbly, and give thanks to the cinematic gods. Even when one of Anderson’s movies isn’t quite as involving or engaging as usual – step forward The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) – it’s still something to treasure, a respite from the formulaic and humdrum offerings of (most) other filmmakers. His last feature, Moonrise Kingdom (2012), was my movie of the year, and quite possibly his best movie yet. That movie is a tough act to follow – will The Grand Budapest Hotel match, or better it?
The movie begins with a young girl approaching a statue in a cemetery in the Middle European city of Lutz. The statue is dedicated to the Author. She begins to read from one of his books. The author (Wilkinson) takes over the narrative and we see him speaking to camera. He begins to tell the story of when he was a young man, and his stay at the titular hotel. Here the narrative is taken over by the author as that younger version of himself. The young author (Law) tells of his meeting with the mysterious owner of the hotel, Mr. Moustafa (Abraham). In turn, Moustafa tells the young author how he came to own the hotel, beginning with his arrival at the hotel in 1932 as a young man called Zero (Revolori), and his tutelage as a lobby boy under the hotel’s concierge, M. Gustave (Fiennes).
M. Gustave has a penchant for the hotel’s elderly female guests, in particular, Madame D. (Swinton). When she leaves the hotel to return to her family home in Lutz, she tells M. Gustave she has a premonition that something will happen to her. Her prediction proves true, and she is found dead, poisoned. M. Gustave and Zero go to pay their respects and find themselves at the reading of the will. With the whole family in attendance, including son Dmitri (Brody), M. Gustave learns he has inherited a valuable painting, Boy with Apple. Dmitri is outraged and threatens M. Gustave that he will never have the painting. So the concierge and the lobby boy steal the painting and hide it back in the Grand Budapest Hotel.
With a missing document holding up the disbursement of the will’s provisions, the sudden disappearance of Madame D.’s servant Serge X (Amalric), and the approaching onset of war with a neighbouring country, M. Gustave finds himself arrested and charged with Madame D.’s murder (and despite a clear lack of evidence to incriminate him). Once in jail, M. Gustave makes friends with some of the inmates, including Ludwig (Keitel), and they propose an escape. With the help of Zero and his girlfriend, baker’s assistant Agatha (Ronan), M. Gustave breaks out of jail, and using the combined talents of several other concierges across the continent, tracks down Serge X who reveals Madame D. made a second will that the family believes is destroyed. There is a copy, though, and it’s hidden in the back of the painting. M. Gustave and Zero must return to the hotel, retrieve the painting, and avoid being killed by Jopling (Dafoe), a psychotic investigator in Dmitri’s employ.
In the world of cinema, nobody does “quirky” or “off the wall” like Anderson, and The Grand Budapest Hotel is no different. With its tale within a tale within a tale within a tale, the movie delights and amuses on so many different levels it’s hard to keep track of them all. There’s the inevitable visual humour – M. Gustave making a run for it when he realises the military police led by Inspector Henckels (Norton) believe he murdered Madame D.; the entrance to Field Post 19; the painting put in place of Boy with Apple – verbal wisecracks and one-liners, and plotting that never falters in its ability to raise a smile. There’s a sure hand at work here, and Anderson steers things with astounding ease, making each development seem as plausible as possible given the layers of absurdity and beautifully judged lunacy that have already gone before.
The world he’s created, with all its foibles and social hierarchies, is beautifully rendered, each scene a glorious testament to Anderson’s exquisite eye for composition and framing, each aspect of the costumes and the set design and the props supporting his vision to the point where this is a completely credible world, even if the events are often incredible. This is a movie that has something going on in almost every frame, and is ravishing to look at on so many levels. The performances are uniformly excellent, from Fiennes’ effortless turn as the exacting lothario M. Gustave, to Revolori’s deadpan incarnation of the younger Moustafa, to the minor roles (watch for the other concierges); everyone is pitch perfect.
So, is The Grand Budapest Hotel as good as, if not better than Moonrise Kingdom? Alas, it’s not, but it’s very close. There are some jarring elements – the modern-day swearing comes across as harsh and out-of-place – and the framing devices (the tales within tales) don’t add anything to the mix, while there’s not quite the heart that infused Moonrise Kingdom and made it so impressive. But this is still one of Anderson’s best, and an absolute must-see nevertheless.
Rating: 8/10 – a beautiful, funny adventure set in a fairytale location and brimming with wit and inventiveness; a chocolate box of goodies that will fill you up but leave you still wanting more.