The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) – Directed by Wes Anderson – Starring Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Edward Norton, Mathieu Amalric, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Léa Seydoux, Jeff Goldblum, Jason Schwartzman, Jude Law, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Murray, and Owen Wilson.
I don’t always love Wes Anderson movies, but I always love that they exist, and like the cakes made by Mendel’s in the fictional country of Zubrowka, Wes Anderson’s latest film, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, is a sweetly delicious and delightful treat.
So beautiful are the small cakes that leave the bakery, that it is said people debate whether they should even eat them out of respect for their appearance. That’s largely how I feel about the film itself. When you get in the habit of reviewing movies (this will be the 976th post at the Anxiety and my guess is that around 875-900 of them are reviews, or reactions, as I like to call them), your brain starts dissecting what you’re going to say about the film even as it’s playing on the screen in front of you. You’re thinking of the way the characters in the movie work and the way the cameras that film the movie work. You’re paying attention to the performances of actors and cinematographers and editors and costume designers. If you do it long enough, it’s like your brain Firestorms at some point, gifting (or cursing) you with a dual identity of sorts, allowing the Ronnie Raymond part of your head to watch the film for enjoyment, and the Martin Stein half to critique it.
There are times, however, when a film pushes one side of that duality to the fore. Watch a really bad movie and Martin takes over. Watch a really silly movie and Ronnie asserts his control. It’s usually not a conscious decision to let one side run point, but every so often, as is in the case of THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, it is. Early in the film, as we bounce from a girl reading a book, to hearing directly from the author of the book (Tom Wilkinson), to seeing the author of the book (Jude Law) living the experience that brought him to write the book, I decided I just wanted to sit and relax and eat popcorn and be transported to Zubrowka to hear the tale of how a lobby boy ended up the owner of The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Anderson’s movies allow this conscious uncoupling of the brain because he creates worlds and characters that are both absurd and wholly real. BUDAPEST is preposterous enough to be a fairy tale yet rounded enough to peel away the fantasy to see the actual experience beneath.
Key to this technique in BUDAPEST is Monsieur Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), the proud concierge of the Budapest, with a deep affinity for bedding the hotel’s aged female guests. When you’re young, he tells lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revlori) as they ride a train to pay their respects to the departed Madame Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe-und-Taxis (Tilda Swinton), you can focus your attention on the choicest cuts of meat, but as you get older, you have to make due with the lesser parts.
And Gustave loves the lesser parts.
BUDAPEST represents Ralph Fiennes best performance in years (which is not to say he’s been bad, merely that here he is so good), as he takes a completely absurdist character and makes him painfully real. Fiennes and Anderson keep pulling gentle rugs out from beneath our feet when it comes to Gustave – he’s a devoted concierge with tremendous love for his hotel who sleeps with older guests. He quizzes Zero hard upon hearing that the boy has been hired without his approval, yet almost immediately comes to depend on him. There’s a wonderful sense of understanding Gustave less as we come to know him more. He visits the home of Madame D. (I’m not typing Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe-und-Taxis every time) to pay his respects but is also very interested in the reading of her will, in which he is awarded a famous painting, Boy with Apple. Gustave believes that he reminded Madame D. of the boy in the painting, which he takes to heart. He may be lecherous, but there’s a clear streak of romanticism to him, as well.
After he is bequeathed the painting (which he and Zero then proceed to steal), he is accused of murdering the matriarch of the Desgoffe-und-Taxis by her son (Adrien Brody), and goes to prison. In prison, Gustave’s desire to remain professional is juxtaposed by his willingness to do what he has to do to first, survive, and later, to break out. One of my favorite scenes takes place after the breakout, where Gustave is terribly upset at Zero for not bringing disguises or securing a safe house and rips into him, and wonders why Zero ever came to Zubrowka. When Zero then reveals he only left his homeland because of war, Gustave becomes incredibly apologetic, and it’s in his apology that the truth of Gustave is revealed: he’s a nice guy with impulse control issues.
When there is an occasion that allows him to rise, such as when military guards are dissatisfied with Zero’s travel papers, Gustave rises up to defend the boy, even if that means he has to take a physical beating, too. But left on his own, his mind and penis wander into the pants of old, rich women with whom he gladly gives his time and willingly accepts their gifts.
It’s the concierge in him, I suppose, that sees nothing illicit or improper about satisfying a person with one hand and receiving payment with the other.
After Gustave has broken out of prison and he and Zero are in need of help, he turns to The Society of the Crossed Keys, a group of concierges scattered across Europe. It’s a fantastically silly sequence that blends Anderson’s love for drama and the absurd, but as phone calls are placed from Bill Murray to Bob Balaban to Fisher Stevens, I was struck by the question of whether there is any director in Hollywood that uses cameos better than Wes Anderson. When the likes of Murrary, Balaban, Stevens, Swinton, Wilkinson, Jason Schwartzman, and Owen Wilson arrive for a scene or two, my reaction is less surprise and more reassurance. The cinematic worlds of Wes Anderson need famous faces populating them. There’s nothing about Monsieurs Ivan and Chuck that particularly require the talents of Murray and Wilson, except that the mere presence of their familiar face adds to the blend of absurdity, fantasy, and honesty. You’re in trouble and need help from your secret band of brothers? Who ya gonna call? Ghostb- er, that is, Bill Murray in a funny mustache, of course.
The plethora of famous faces enhances the presence of the unknown face of Tony Revolori as the young lobby boy. It’s not just Moustafa who’s entering a new world of the Grand Budapest and Gustave, but it’s also Revolori entering this new world populated by Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe and Edward Norton.
GRAND BUDAPEST contains a handful of brilliant performances. In particular, I thoroughly enjoyed the work of Revolori, Goldblum, Wilkinson, and Law, but the real star of almost any Wes Anderson movie is Wes Anderson. Once again, he transports us to a world that cannot possibly exist, yet feels completely real because the characters’ emotions are real. It’s often little things, like the Author (Wilkinson version) giving a monologue to the camera and then exploding in a brief moment of anger at a child that’s buzzing around, only to apologize to him moments later.
I adore THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL. Each year, it seems as if Summer Popcorn Season starts earlier and earlier, and now that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is out (I hope to see it Thursday), we’re headed for a steady diet of big budget action movies. I’m all for that, of course (“I think we found a Transformer!”), but for a lazy afternoon in April, there wasn’t a better movie to sit and enjoy as I stuffed a gargantuan bucket of buttered ‘corn into my belly than Wes Anderson’s wonderful THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL.