From the Vault #32: THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014)

From 2012 onwards, before developing this blog, I wrote a multitude of reviews on the website Letterboxd. In this irregular series called From the Vault, I’m going to haul these earlier reviews out of mothballs and re-purpose them here.

This one is from March 8th, 2014…

For many years, Wes Anderson has been celebrated as an offbeat American auteur, with a narrative and visual style all his own – a colourful, melancholic whimsy riven with a biting, black comedic undercurrent. At times it’s worked well, others it misses the mark, but with The Grand Budapest Hotel he has created something truly wonderful.

Inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig, Anderson’s film is light, fun, thoughtful, cheeky, rude, farcical and emotional all in one rip roaring stew, never stopping for breath to tell a sumptuously filmed story about the passing of time, of friendship, of codes of honour, as well as commenting on a memorable slice of history, backed up by a galaxy of fantastic character actors.

It’s a joy from start to finish.

If you’re new to Anderson in the cinema, prepare to be swept away, because The Grand Budapest Hotel looks utterly gorgeous.

Set in the fictional Eastern European republic of Zubrowka, we are immediately presented with a landscape filled with colour, be it mountains of white snow or the classical elegance of the hotel, riven with reds and purples; it’s a feast for the senses, a Wonka factory for the eyes, and his choice to shoot in three aspect ratios to represent the three time periods he plays in (the 1930’s, 1960’s & 1980’s) allows for the texture to change, representing one of the key themes in the piece.

One might think this means Anderson has made a different kind of film with the period setting and time shifting narrative, but from the off this has all of his trademarks – oddball characters, hyper-real, stylised locations & careful camerawork capturing mood and expression, yet with a penchant for the comedic. That filters too into his script, which is an absolute triumph – touching, clever, frequently hilarious, with a story that neatly manages to weave a tapestry across three separate decades and even satirise the rise of Nazism without ever becoming too stodgy, or heavy, or forgetting we’re here to have fun with our plucky, debonair hero & literal moustache twirling villains. It often feels like a classic caper, left over from a bygone movie age, like a gem we forgot, yet one unafraid to be rude and sting you with a real darkly comic bite that other filmmakers would shy away from.

Though if Anderson deserves lashings of praise for such work, credit too must be shared with the phenomenal cast he assembles to tell his story – beyond frequent collaborators such as Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzmann or Bill Murray, the list is breathtaking: Jude Law, Tom Wilkinson, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Edward Norton, Saorise Ronan… some of whom have tiny or minor roles, yet all feel connected and part of the patchwork, memorably bringing to life Anderson’s offbeat creations.

The whole piece belongs, however, to the leads: Ralph Fiennes & newcomer Tony Revolori.

Fiennes once again gets to play with his unexpected gift for comedy as Gustave, the suave hotel concierge whose peculiar proclivities drag him into a tale of murder, wealth & art, and he’s effortlessly brilliant in the role – cheeky, charming, devilish, crafty yet touching & sweet, the kind of role you see rarely these days & one Fiennes eats up with relish. If anything though, Revolori is the revelation as Zero, the lobby boy who’s story this all truly is, a naive young immigrant who becomes Gustave’s partner in misadventure. It’s their friendship that drives the picture, a double act that’s often hilarious, more than not touching, and one Anderson wonderfully constructs with two gifted actors who work superbly together. Both deserve awards down the road and hopefully we’ll see much more of Revolori to come.

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but The Grand Budapest Hotel is possibly a masterpiece. Wes Anderson is well known for his sense of whimsical style, though his work doesn’t always properly connect beyond the senses. This does, in spades. It’s a sweet black comic farce, masterfully put together with an amazing ensemble of performances, a beautiful score by Alexandre Desplat, peerlessly edited, gloriously shot by regular Anderson collaborator, cinematographer Robert Yeoman, working from terrific writing and direction.

Honestly, you won’t see many better films from 2014, and it’s quite possibly Anderson’s zenith so far.

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