Wes Anderson’s grandest film yet: Reviewing The Grand Budapest Hotel

Director: Wes Anderson
Screenplay: Wes Anderson
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson, Tony Revolori, Léa Seydoux

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I remember seeing the music video of Vampire Weekend’s Oxford Comma for the first time and thinking that it was reminiscent of the Wes Anderson aesthetic – the chapters, the way the camera pans from one scene to another for the entire duration of the video, and even the preppy outfits. The message of the song was revealed in the manner by which Wes Anderson would have told an audience of the story of one of his films; perhaps Wes Anderson’s quirky visuals and alternate realities are not just what constitute his approach to filmmaking, but something that has been established as a distinct brand of storytelling. But in The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson takes this aesthetic to a whole new level, without sparing the plot of the movie from the revolutionary grandeur he took in his stride.

We plunge into yet another fantastical world concocted by Anderson’s imagination. Anderson gathers his regular players, with some new ones, to breathe life into a story inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig. We come to know of Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) as Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the owner of the Grand Budapest Hotel in 1968, recounts the tale of how he came into its possession to The Author (Jude Law). While the story progresses with the premise that the concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel, Gustave, is framed for the murder of Madame D (Tilda Swinton), the latter having availed of the “exceptional services” of the former a month prior to her death, it nevertheless revolves around the mentor-mentee relationship between Gustave and the then lobby boy, Zero (Tony Revolori). Pursued by Madame D’s vengeful son, Dmitri (Adrien Brody), his scary finger-cutting gunman, J.G. Jopling (Willem Dafoe), and Inspector Henckles (Edward Norton), Gustave then sets out to clear his name, with Zero by his side. Aside from this, we have subplots as well, such as the budding romance between Zero and Agatha (Saoirse Ronan), the helper of the baker at Mendl’s. What seem to be accessories at first to the plot of the movie are in reality also significant details and parts of the plot, as digging tools were hidden in Mendl’s pastries for the escape of Gustave from prison. Boy with Apple was a nice touch.

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While all the actors delivered commendable performances, Ralph Fiennes clearly stood out. His impeccable performance made Gustave more endearing rather than annoying. It’s difficult to be set apart from the rest when Wes Anderson characters are usually so deadpan and speak with a certain rhythm. Here’s to hoping that he becomes part of the regular Wes Anderson movie company. Also, Tony Revolori does well in his debut film role.

The plot does not depict your run-of-the-mill emotionally damaged Wes Anderson characters swimming through emotionally charged depths, in search for resolution. It’s an adventure, but it’s not introspection. Quite far from it, Grand Budapest explores what happened to the characters, rather than what they did to make those things happen. There’s love, murder, mystery, and action, wrapped in an aesthetically dazzling package, deceptive at first, but quite surprising when you open it, akin to a Mendl’s courtesan au chocolat wrapped in the distinctive box. Quick comedic moments humanize the film, reminding its audience that it is following a story, and not merely watching picturesque scenes on slideshow (Dmitri exclaiming “What the fuck” while pointing to a painting about fucking).

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It made me wonder whether my benchmark that is The Royal Tennenbaums has been surpassed, but with The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson sets the bar for aesthetic quality one notch higher, while providing a different arena for film storytelling altogether. We have the same chapters, quirky subtitles, and handwritten letters, but the combination of various elements made the film more dazzling and magnificent, and not confusing. It doesn’t get lost in its entrapping; it handled the plot with ease and grace, quite aware of the premise it gave. It is a beautifully crafted film, a delight for not only lovers of art and language, but also those looking for something beyond the typical movie. Gustave was a rather complex character, and it’s quite difficult to pin down what exactly makes him tick. There was one scene where he gave up entirely on eloquently speaking as he usually does, and ends up cursing. It was revealed at the end that Gustave was once a lobby boy like Zero, and his character contrasted with that of Zero, at first makes a grand distinction. But by the end, we see that Gustave is just like any other human being, albeit a bit more refined yet errs on the manic side as well. And perhaps, that’s where the heart of Grand Budapest lies; the characters of Gustave and Zero develop, as their relationship grew stronger, with each shedding appearances as we delve deeper into the story. The mentor-mentee relationship was the pinnacle of the story. It clearly depicts a human characteristic, an emotional quality without which no Wes Anderson film would be complete.

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In every aspect, the film evoked perfect symmetry and coordinated color palettes. From Bottle Rocket to The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson created and perfected his craft. It would be difficult to top this one without recreating it, but it’s Wes Anderson, and in that name alone, there is promise.

— J

MNL Film Club Score: 1.0

P.S. – If you live in the Philippines, the movie is still showing at Ayala cinemas. The Republic of Zubrowka is very beautiful on a large screen. Have fun identifying famous actors and actresses, or like what I (dorkily) did, looking for parallelism and balance in every shot.

P.P.S – Here’s that video of Oxford Comma.

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