The Grand Budapest Hotel

At cinemas now.
Written by Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness / Directed by Wes Anderson

The central plot of Wes Anderson’s latest is fairly simple when you see it written down. When a regular guest at the hotel of the title dies soon after predicting her own demise, she leaves a very valuable painting to the hotel’s smooth concierge Gustave something her family are displeased with in the extreme. In the hands of other writers or directors you could imagine such a tale being enjoyable enough but moulded by Wes Anderson it becomes a daringly visual celebration of cinematic techniques and storytelling. Not content to offer a straightforward narrative, Anderson unveils several layers and different perspectives. His trademark love of narration, gliding camera moves (no wobblecam for Wes!) and the way his characters can be marvellously deadpan all make their mark. It’s too soon to say if it’s his best film yet- as some are- but it is certainly his most entertainingly ambitious.

We’re initially drawn into the story of an unnamed author played in the present day by Tom Wilkinson looking back to his 1980s self (Jude Law) who visited the elaborate hotel and met with its elderly proprietor Zero Moustafa (F Murray Abraham). It looks as if this will be the latter’s story of how as a teenager (now played by Tony Revolori) he trained under the tutelage of M Gustave. Really though the film is about Gustave or at least Mustafa’s childhood impression of him and of the hotel. Surprisingly it is Ralph Fiennes who has this part and he is a delight throughout. More comedic than you’d ever imagine the actor to be he brings one of Anderson’s most memorable characters to life with panache. He savours each and every line – and this is one of the director’s wordier pictures-and gives a performance that is always a step in between light comedy and melodrama. It’s a real tour de force yet never overwhelms the film. The sillier matters get- and they become both silly and brutal later, sometimes in the same scene- Fiennes is there with a comment or a remark that is delivered spot on.
Anderson’s films are always tightly calibrated almost like machines that perform incredible functions yet do so at their own speed and in their own time. This film in particular seems to homage various directors of old to the point where he uses different aspect ratios to depict different time periods. He sometimes uses what look like tiny models, other times he shows off the grandeur of corridors and old rooms. We see the hotel at its lavish best and gone to seed worst; the former represented in a blaze of sunny bright pastels, the latter grey and careworn browns. Anderson can suggest Kubrick or Melies back to back and it doesn’t look anachronistic. His often unremarked upon skill in showing momentum without resorting to overly busy cameras is again demonstrated in a superbly rendered –though improbable- prison break. A gun battle across an ornate balcony is even delivered unconventionally. There is also a fantastic bit where Gustave runs away to be chased by police but the camera remains where it was which somehow makes the scene twice as funny.
The result is a film that will probably appeal mostly to people who like Wes Anderson films. Yet unlike Tim Burton who seems to be simply re-stating his aims with diminishing creative returns, Anderson still seems fresh, still has something more under the bonnet to give. It has its darker moments and there are a couple of quite violent interludes but somehow Anderson always seems to make even the most shock revelation seem as casual as expressing opinions on shoes. This is a much broader film than he often makes and he’s invented his own country and war though obviously these owe much to real ones. He has created a European vision that seems authentic even though he’s made it all up. The comedic moments are a little less arch than you might expect with some laugh out loud quips coming from Gustave. Somehow he has made farce seem more acceptable and each of the characters surfaces at exactly the right level. Like all his films if you stop believing in the veracity of it, the magic will vanish but who wants realism when you can have something a fancifully enjoyable and ludicrously absorbing as this?

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