It’s hard to imagine, but there are some people out there who don’t like Wes Anderson. They’d probably say they find his style too ‘quirky’ and irritating and his films too similar. I can’t understand them myself, and Wes by the looks of things, does not care. He’s established his own unique style of filmmaking from the start of his career and he’s sticking firmly too it, and if you’re a fan, then his eighth film, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a delightful return to Anderson’s weird little world.
In a set up that’s not as convoluted as it sounds; the film’s central story is presented within several layers. After a brief present day opening, a now dead author (Tom Wilkinson) tells of how he came to write the non-fiction book The Grand Budapest Hotel, flashing back to his younger self (Jude Law) who meets the elderly Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who then tells him the story of his time as a lobby boy in the titular hotel in 1932. All of these segments have a purpose, reflecting on how a story, and a person’s actions can resonate through time, and none seem unnecessary. Anderson distinguishes between the timelines by employing different aspect ratios for each one. The main bulk of the film is concerned with the 1932 storyline, where the colourful Hotel was at the height of its success, in sharp contrast to its faded sixties status.
In this, a young Zero Moustafa (newcomer Tony Revolori) begins working as a lobby boy in the hotel and soon meets the concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). Gustave is a charming, fast-talking chap who takes his work very seriously but also has a penchant for the hotel’s wealthy, older female guests. One such lady is Madame D (Tilda Swinton is shockingly good old-age make-up), who unfortunately turns up dead not long after leaving the hotel, setting in motion the main events of the film.
This leads to a fantastically frenetic storyline that comes across as a mixture of Hitchcockian thriller, farce, murder mystery, screwball comedy, with a bit of romance throw in too, and all filtered through Wes Anderson’s unique vision.
Anderson’s assembled quite possibly his biggest cast yet to bring these characters to life. He generally keeps a number of regular performers while adding in a couple of new ones each film, and it’s always interesting to see who’ll fit into his style. Here he doesn’t put a foot wrong in his casting. While his more frequent collaborators like Owen Wilson, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman make fleeting appearances, he wonderfully reunites with the likes of Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton and Harvey Keitel, designing their characters so well that he’s able to elicit laughs merely by cutting to a shot of their appearance.
However, the star here is most definitely Fiennes’s Gustave M. Anybody who saw In Bruges knows he’s quite capable of comedy but he’s still known as a rather serious actor. Judging from his work here, he should definitely do more comedic roles, lots more. He is simply brilliant in every scene, delivering his lines which can be elegant, sharp, hilarious, and profane, with perfection. He’s quite possibly the best character Anderson has come up with so far. For the first time Anderson is the sole credited screenwriter (though he shares a story credit and the film is ‘inspired by’ the works of Stefan Zweig), and I do wonder if Fiennes, whose character seems distinctly British, is improvising at all or if Anderson’s grasp of dialogue is as excellent as it seems.
The Grand Budapest Hotel doesn’t take place in a country that actually exists, it’s located in the European ‘Republic of Zubrowka’, and the fascist militants that appear are never said to be ‘Germans’. There is so much about his world that shouldn’t work but just does. Nearly every actor uses their natural accents, ranging from French (Mathieu Amalric) to Irish (Saoirse Ronan) to New York (Harvey Keitel) and it never matters. Anderson can cut from live-action to blatant model shots and stop motion without it ever seeming out of place.
While Anderson isn’t changing his tune, The Grand Budapest Hotel still represents growth for him as a director. He’s always balanced serious and ridiculous elements in his films and they’ve both rarely been more so than here, yet this is never an issue, he’s nailed down the tone. Budapest features several of the biggest laughs to be found in any Anderson film, yet also includes frantic chase sequences, a couple of surprisingly violent bursts, and an ending that’s quietly moving. Anderson’s visuals and famed framing of shots is equally impressive. Moonrise Kingdom was the first film from him that left me a little disappointed, but this has put him firmly back on the list of my favourite working directors.