American filmmaker Wes Anderson has successfully made a series of movies over the last two decades that bear his distinctive style, along with a cast of actors that has become his stock company. Among the best known are: “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” and “Moonrise Kingdom.” Anderson’s films are quirky comedies filled with eccentric characters.
Anderson’s latest film, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” contains many of the aspects of his style: It’s visually stunning, with lots of those odd characters, and a plot so complex it defies description. The cast includes many of Anderson’s regulars, including Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and Edward Norton. Anderson’s quirkiness is very much on display in every frame, from the distinctive look to its breathtaking pace.
In brief, the story goes something like this: a legendary concierge, Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) works at the Budapest Hotel, in an unnamed Eastern European country in the 1930s. Gustave is known for his service, especially to female guests, including the wealthy elderly widow Madame D. (Tilda Swinton.) When Madame D. dies, Gustave travels to her funeral along with the young lobby boy Zero. After the funeral, Gustave is an unwelcome guest as Madame D.’s family gathers for the reading of the will. Gustave and the family battle over Madame D.’s estate, particularly a valuable painting entitled “Boy with Apple.”
From this point on, the film develops into a madcap chase across through the countryside to the hotel, and all points in between. The pace continues to escalate as the movie continues. I almost expected the Keystone Cops to appear at any moment! Among the many great scenes is a stunning chase scene on a ski slope.
Don’t worry if you can’t keep up with all the action. As much as I enjoyed watching “Budapest Hotel” on a big screen, I also look forward to viewing it at home, so I can pause it and go back as I wonder “What happened? Let’s see that again!” “Budapest Hotel” is an exhilarating experience, even if I couldn’t always be sure what was going on at the moment.
This is Anderson’s best film since his wonderful animated film, “The Fantastic Mr. Fox.” In some of his films, Anderson focused so much on his technique that the plot and characters got lost. However, in “Budapest Hotel,” the different elements do not work against each other, but contribute to a whole satisfying piece. Cinematography, editing, art direction, makeup, costumes, and score are all first rate. It’s very early in the year, but I’d like to see Oscar nominations in several of these categories.
There’s nothing of any great depth here, but there is a sense of darkness that surfaces throughout “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” While it is primarily a comedy, there are also armies with tyrannical leaders and Swastika-looking symbols, serving as reminders that fascist states are on the rise during this era. I also couldn’t help thinking of the contemporary tensions in the Ukraine and the Crimea watching the film. While there isn’t a lot of violence, when it comes, it can be disturbing, and a beloved character is killed. These elements keep the film from being too lightweight.
I encourage you to visit “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” I think you’ll be glad you did.
Tom Condon, OP