I think I’ve only ever seen one Wes Anderson film before this one – The Royal Tenenbaums. I didn’t really enjoy that as I found it quite inaccessible and very flat, with lots of sitting around pontificating, but The Grand Budapest Hotel is a very different affair.
It begins with a lot of throwbacks to previous generations. The author narrating picks up the story earlier in his life (played by Jude Law) in the late 60s in the hotel, housed in the mountains in the fictional Eastern European country of Zubrowka. The hotel is introduced to us in its spectacular setting and it looks like a beautifully hand-crafted model, almost like a stylish painting. In the hotel, the author encounters the hotel owner – Mr Moustafa – and the story gets thrown back further to when Mr Moustafa was a trainee bellboy for concierge Gustave H. The story now settles on this time period and our protagonists Zero Moustafa and Gustave H are played by Tony Revolori and Ralph Fiennes.
The film really has the feeling of a novel that meets a cartoon. Initially, and especially with Jude Law’s scenes, the dialogue feels straight out of a novel, and the visual style despite being live-action on the whole is very cartoon-inspired with bright colours, fantastical settings, caricatured characters and a sense of fun.
It’s the sense of fun from early on that makes the film work so well. It makes the introduction of the settings and the characters enjoyable and funny (even though everyone has an accent from a different place it seems not to be a problem), then as it moves to a more adventurous caper you feel happy to go on the journey with them and genuinely threatened by the baddies in the tale. One of those is played by Willem Dafoe and he is a brilliantly evil creation that had me genuinely concerned. But Ralph Fiennes is the star of the show. His camp character is nostalgic for the class structures and politeness of years gone by and he maintains a level of decorum, nobility and impeccable customer service which keeps the guests returning, but this exterior occasionally cracks and he blurts out expletive-laden attacks. His comic timing is spot-on. Mr Moustafa puts it well when he says “His world had vanished long before he entered it, but he certainly sustained the illusion with a marvellous grace.”
Some of the shots are fantastic as well, reminiscent of Hitchcock’s finer moments. I particularly loved the ski-chase! The film is in different aspect ratios according to the time period: starting in 2.35:1then thinning to 1.85:1 and finally 1.33:1 (the old 4:3 of squarer tellies). Whilst this is a nice touch, it does mean the bulk of the film is stuck with 1.33:1 which feels quite constrained and limiting at times.
A satisfying if poignant round up completes the story – it’s great: I loved it!
5 on 5
Director: Wes Anderson
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Jude Law, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Mathieu Amalric, Saoirse Ronan, Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, Harvey Keitel
UK release: 7th March 2014