Wes Anderson is a fascinating phenomenon. Having plugged away as a more or less cult director for some time, his films are becoming increasingly popular amongst wider and wider audiences. To achieve this, however, he hasn’t compromised his unique style in the slightest; if anything, he has merely refined and cultivated it even further – bordering, some may say, on the point of self-parody.
The Grand Budapest Hotel could be argued to be his most unusual and outlandish offering yet. For instance, it’s filmed in three different aspect ratios, an offbeat and rather ingenious little trick that helps indicate the time period in which each scene takes place. On top of that, the majority of the story on screen is also the furthest back in time, so most of the feature is shot in the essentially square 1.33:1 ratio; a unorthodox directorial choice to be made for a film of such a scale.
Unorthodox it may be, but it’s effective. It’s these such quirks that contribute towards creating Anderson’s utterly unique style. As ever, The Grand Budapest Hotel features auteur trademarks such as countless symmetrical shots, beautifully crafted props and sets, and a vast host of emotionally restrained yet wonderfully rich and distinct characters. To play these roles he has assembled arguably one of the finest casts known to man: there’s Tilda Swinton hidden under some incredible old make-up, Jeff Goldblum and his mesmerising hands (and fingers), Saoirse Ronan with a facial birthmark, Willem Dafoe and Adrien Brody as a pair of scary baddies, F. Murray Abraham and Jude Law hanging out together, Ed Norton as an endearingly earnest policeman, a tattooed Harvey Keitel in a bald cap – as well as Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Mathieu Amalric, Léa Seydoux and Tom Wilkinson all popping in with about five minutes of screen time between them. And then there’s Gustav H.
Ralph Fiennes is quite clearly having the time of his life playing the highly camp, foul-mouthed and unusually shouty (for a Wes Anderson character) gerontophilic hotel concierge. He can leap from immaculately-presented civility and hospitality to furious curse-laden tirades in the blink of an eye. Fiennes is simply on fire and delivers his best comedic turn since Harry Waters in In Bruges. To have such a colossal cast alongside him and still absolutely steal the show is a towering achievement, and further consolidates Fiennes as one of the best in the business. Arguably even more impressive, however, is Tony Revolori as H.’s trusted lobby boy Zero. To go toe-to-toe with Ralph Fiennes at his best in almost every scene and hold your own is an achievement for most actors, but to do so in your first major starring role is sensational. Revolori undoubtedly gives one of the finest debut performances of the year, and hats should be taken off accordingly.
The Grand Budapest Hotel also continues Anderson’s forays into somewhat more conventionally structured, focused narratives, as he has done with his last few films (whilst maintaining his distinct style, humour and charm of course). The story is a wild romp through wintry landscapes as H. and Zero flee the law; in fact, the narrative shoots at a lightning pace in comparison to some of Anderson’s more meandering works. Like Moonrise Kingdom, it’s an oddball version of a “buddies on the run” movie, but a bit leaner and a bit more choppy than its predecessor. The slightly manic character of Gustav H. lends an air of urgency to the proceedings in a way that few of Anderson’s characters have before. The locations the pair dash through are some of the most stunning to behold in an Anderson film since the vast swathes of Indian steppes and meticulously detailed train carriages of The Darjeeling Limited. One of the most striking is, of course, the beautiful pastel pink hotel itself (based on the Palace Bristol Hotel in Carlsbad, Czech Republic), sitting upon the peak of a mountain. No wonder it was used so heavily for the poster.
What it boils down to is that The Grand Budapest Hotel is arguably Anderson’s finest output to date because it has all of the best elements of his oeuvre so far, all rolled into one film, intensified, with a few other ingredients thrown in for good measure. It has the expertly-curated ensemble cast of films like The Royal Tenenbaums. It has moments of real danger like in The Darjeeling Limited, and moments of surprising intimacy like The Life Aquatic. It’s got the ticking clock of Moonrise Kingdom, and the clear objective of Bottle Rocket. And, most importantly, it has the gorgeously crafted environments and visuals, the dark humour and instantly recognisable directorial trademarks of all of his works combined. It is with the director’s 8th feature film that he gets as close to perfection as any filmmaker can achieve. Bravo.
Room for one please.
One Room With A View’s Top 20 of 2014 (so far):
20 = X-Men: Days of Future Past
20 = Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
19. The LEGO Movie
17. 22 Jump Street
16. The Wind Rises
15. Mr Turner
13. Starred Up
12 = The Raid 2
12 = Nightcrawler
11. Dallas Buyers Club
10. Gone Girl
8. Guardians of the Galaxy
6. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL