During the early spring, most folks escape to the tropics. Wes Anderson, however, offers us a ticket to the Alps.
It treads recognizable cinematic ground but Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel is still a pleasant venture, and with an entrancing production design and expansive ensemble cast, it may be the director’s most elaborate film to date.
Told as a narration of a memoir of a flashback of the elderly Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the film follows young Zero’s (Tony Revolori) arrival in the fictional European nation of Zubrowka while it is on the brink of war in the early 1930s. Zero finds employment as a lobby boy at the esteemed Grand Budapest Hotel, studying diligently under the guide of the hotel’s concierge, Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), a stylish and womanizing workaholic. Gustave tests Zero through many rigorous tasks, and although he is at first skeptical of the young immigrant’s abilities, he comes to respect his devotion.
When Gustave catches wind of the sudden death of one of his former lovers, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), he and Zero race off to the funeral to find her estate swarmed with impatient acquaintances awaiting the dispersal of her will. To his surprise, Gustave discovers that he has inherited a extremely valuable painting of hers–much to the anger of her estranged son Dmitri (Adrien Brody), who suspects some sort of foul play. Gustave’s mysterious inheritance places him as the prime suspect in Madame D.’s murder, leading him on a lengthy cat-and-mouse chase to prove his innocence–with the unwavering support of Zero and his fiancée, Agatha (Saoirse Ronan), of course.
While it is his trademark, Anderson’s brand of monotone tends to work best when it’s coming through angst-ridden adolescents or anthropomorphic animals, as the jadedness it provides those characters humorously contrasts their more innocent appearances. In Grand Budapest Hotel, the deadpan isn’t as overkill as in other Anderson flicks (Life Aquatic comes to mind) but it’s stretched close to breaking point, particularly when Anderson and writing partner Hugo Guinness try to throw in assumedly “edgy” humor that instead reads more like slur-addled shock. However, the genuine moments of comedy that are sprinkled in compliment the film’s twisted murder mystery plot, creating that offbeat vibe that Anderson fans have come to love.
The strait-lacedness of the characters adds to the film’s elaborate staging, as well. The characters — although they’re all rather one-note — are nonetheless amusing caricatures that are as posable as figurines on a hobbyist’s miniature layout. From the tattooed, elderly prisoner Ludwig (Harvey Keitel) to Swinton’s gussied-up Madame D. to the skulking, jagged-toothed lackey Jopling (Willem Dafoe), their few traits allow for full exaggeration within their deadpan restrictions, which produce charming results. As with Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson is once again successful at finding dedicated young talent, with Revolori proving that he can carry a hefty portion of the film on his own as the ambitious lobby boy Zero. With the film’s perfectly-symmetrical cinematography (that cleverly changes aspect ratio to denote different time periods) to the intricate design of the hotel, the whole set feels like Anderson’s pink pastel diorama. Alexandre Desplat’s score caps off this constructed illusion, subtly veering in and out of diegesis as if it were occasionally invading the set-maker’s imagination.
The film won’t convert any new followers but to Anderson’s dedicated fans, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a welcomed addition to his repertoire. Even to the casual film-going public, it offers a layered comedy-mystery with enough eccentricities to fill an executive suite. Better book your stay while you still can.