Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Movie Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson is one of those filmmakers who appears to exist in a bubble, seemingly free from the rest of the cinematic world. His films always feel like their own unique thing, rarely imitated and always unmistakable. I can think of other directors that exist with that commercially successful indie auteur space - the Coens, say, or Sodeburgh - but none that are so indelibly welded to a certain feel of a movie. And for some reason, I really like Anderson's films, despite all the little tics and mannerisms that should drive me crazy, and so it was with some anticipation we went to see The Grand Budapest Hotel, possibly the most Wes Anderson film yet.

From the start it becomes clear that this is a story told through multiple layers of recollection, and that any truth to the tale is not one of actual veracity to the events. A girl starts to read a book, narrated by an older author, flashing back to his younger self, who is in turn being told a story by an old man, recounting his younger days and how he came to be in possession of the eponymous Hotel. There is a level of artifice at work here reinforced by the obvious model work throughout the film, and the dreamlike colours and shot-compositions, and its a perfect match for Anderson's sense of whimsy.

At the centre of the film is the hotel's concierge, M Gustave, played with utter perfection by Ralph Fiennes. It really is a stunningly good performance, compelling and witty and pitched just right into the swirling chaos of the film's ensemble cast. M Gustave is a force of nature, running the Hotel like clockwork, including taking care of many of the "needs" of it's older female visitors, many of whom, it appears, visit solely for his attentions. He takes under his wing a young lobby boy, Zero, and together they become ensared in what is best described as a "caper" involving a stolen painting, murder, and a looming, un-named war that is about to overtake this quiet, Eastern European country.

Stylistically, if you've ever seen any Wes Anderson film then you'll know what to expect. Odd camera angles, long, sliding shots at odd levels, unexpected quick-cuts and diversions to other things, and everything done with a sense of deliberate placement, with nothing left to chance; a ramshackle looking machine that moves with clockwork precision. This is Anderson turned up to 11, with any pretense of realism shorn away, leaving only meaning behind. This is further reinforced by the barrage of cameos from Anderson stalwarts, as well as some surprising newcomers.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is by turns funny, emotional, sad, and ultimately more than a little moving, Its also hugely indulgent, overly stylistic and will probably annoy the hell out of some people within the first few minutes. Its not quite funny enough to be a comedy and not quite dramatic enough to be drama, although this is true of pretty much everything Anderson does, so in the end the best summation I can make of it is this - this may be the purest Wes Anderson film I can think of, and leave it at that.