Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Film Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

The Grand Budapest Hotel

At the top of a funicular in the heart of Zubrowka, a fictional Eastern country soon to be subsumed by World War 2, lays the magnificent Grand Budapest Hotel: a hotel that attracts the finest aristocrats from across Europe who flock to spend time there.  This is mostly due to the diligent and enigmatic concierge Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), who has a series of liaisons with his most esteemed guests – as long as they are ageing, rich and blonde.

One of these guests is Madame D (Tilda Swinton), a wealthy widow who is found dead one morning in the eponymous hotel due to being poisoned.  Gustave and his lobby boy, Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) the narrator of the plot, rush to the old woman’s wake to discover that she has bequeathed the priceless painting Boy With Apple to him.  This causes outrage amongst her extended family that then accuses him of murder, leading Zero to hide the painting back in the hotel as Gustave is taken to jail. 

Zero must then help Gustave break free from prison and escape a sadistic private detective (Willem Defoe) who is trying to catch him and return him to Madame D’s greedy grandchild Dmitri Desgoffe-und-Taxis (Adrien Brody).  Monsieur Gustave must then enlist the help of other prestigious concierges from a secret network that they are all a part of to help him clear his name.

To fully recognise all of the acting talent would give away too much of the plot, but it is worth noting that Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Owen Wilson, Saoirse Ronan and others are all involved…  My one complaint would be that the film hugely fails the Bechdel Test - but at least it contains no explicit sexism...

The undeniable star of the show is Ralph Fiennes as the articulate fop Gustave H.  I’ve never seen Fiennes give such a funny performance and many of the biggest laughs (and there were many) come from his deadpan delivery. 

Director Wes Anderson has managed to forge a career out of blockbuster budgets and casting but with ‘indie’ aesthetics that students all around the world subject to relentless 'auteur' criticism for coursework and dissertations.  But he is the exact opposite of an auteur precisely because his projects need so much collective talent to work.

The mise-en-scène that Wes Anderson and long-time collaborator Robert Yeoman have created is, as always, an absolute joy to behold.  Their frequent fast track pans, overhead close-ups and quick zooms are all framed across different aspect ratios to create one of the most stylish blockbusters of the year (and it’s only March).  Their imitable style is easy to parody but only the most hardened cynic would disagree that it is a pleasure to watch.

The film employs the classic family-drama-amidst-a-national-crisis narrative device to show Gustave and his Hotel ‘family’ fighting the emotionless and greedy Desgoffe-und-Taxis family, all set against a fascist occupation of the country that is a minor annoyance at best to the central characters.  The loyalty that the concierge shows to his lobby boy as they are questioned on a train by armed thugs is one of the most tender moments in the whole film.

Due to the gorgeous cinematography and camera work it would be foolish to wait to see this on a small screen – it is a cinematic film made for the cinema that I cannot wait to see again.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is out on the 7th of March

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