Despite limiting himself to a unique genre of quirky, intelligent and surreal comedy dramas, Wes Anderson has become one of the best filmmakers of the 21st century. The Grand Budapest Hotel may be his greatest film yet and is by far my favorite film of 2014 thus far (it’s early).
During a series of flashbacks within flashbacks (each with its own aspect ratio) which take us back from 2014 to 1932 (in an ‘alternate-reality’ world), we are introduced to the adult Zero Moustafa (played by F. Murray Abraham), who narrates much of the film. When he was young (in 1932, played by Tony Revolori), Zero was the lobby boy at The Grand Budapest Hotel, an enormous, gaudy, pink edifice set high in the wooded hills of the imaginary Eastern European country of Zubrowka. Zero’s supervisor, mentor and friend in those days is M. Gustave, the hotel’s concierge. It is Gustave (played perfectly by Ralph Fiennes) who becomes the focus of The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Early in the film, Gustave and Zero get caught up in the affairs surrounding the murder of Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), a woman who had frequented The Grand Budapest Hotel and had grown rather close to Gustave (who appears to be a gigolo). The question is: ‘Who killed Madame D. and who will inherit the huge family fortune?’
While The Grand Budapest Hotel is darker and more serious than most of Anderson’s films (allowing for a greater depth of feeling and character), it contains many hilarious scenes as the suave Gustave tries to use his charm and quick wits to avoid spending his life in prison. Meanwhile, Madame D.’s eccentric son, Dmitri (Adrien Brody), uses his sinister agent, Jopling (Willem Dafoe), to hunt down the only witness to the murder. There are a few brief scenes of shocking (and out-of-place?) violence along the way, but it’s all incredibly clever (the dialogue is brilliantly-written) and great fun.
The acting in this perfectly-cast film is superb. Besides the actors already mentioned, The Grand Budapest Hotel also features Bill Murray, Jude Law, Tom Wilkinson, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Owen Wilson and more. The film’s cinematography is likewise outstanding, with an endlessly creative use of colour in each perfectly-framed scene. Many of those scenes are stolen from classic films, especially 1930’s and 40’s film noir and Hitchcock, which makes the film extra fun for film buffs. Indeed, The Grand Budapest Hotel as a whole feels very much like a 1930’s comedy mystery, a feeling enhanced by the wonderful old-fashioned score (by Alexandre Desplat).
Besides being an extraordinary work of cinematic art that exudes the joy of pure filmmaking, I also think The Grand Budapest Hotel has some thoughtful things to say (despite Anderson’s refusal to admit that the film has anything to say other than whatever a viewer may take away from the film). For example, there is the repeated quote: “There are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity.” For all his faults as a supercilious snob, Gustave is a good, courteous and loyal man who represents one of those glimmers of civilization. The adult Zero says of Gustave: “I think his world had vanished long before he ever entered it. But I will say he certainly sustained the illusion with a marvelous grace.” The Grand Budapest Hotel is, in many ways, about the desire to return to the glory days of a vanished past that never existed.
In my favourite scene in the film, Gustave questions Zero’s motives for coming to Zubrowka from some ‘barbaric’ Middle-Eastern country. This conversation clearly satirizes present-day attitudes toward immigrants, the Middle East and the question of which parts of the world are really more civilized. The film as a whole also satirizes authority and governments of all kinds.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is an extraordinary film that I would recommend to all if it weren’t for its R rating (brief scenes containing language, sexual content and violence). If you’re an Anderson fan, you should have seen the film by now. If not, this film is a good place to start. I am giving The Grand Budapest Hotel **** and it will almost certainly make my top ten films of 2014. My mug is up.