Friday, March 21, 2014

Review: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

Wes Anderson has a very specific aesthetic. His films are not for everyone. Each of his films is purposefully over-styled and each element is carefully crafted. This wonderful Vimeo video highlights just what detail Anderson affords his films. My first trip inside Anderson's world was when I was eighteen and I went to see The Royal Tenenbaums in the theatre three times in one month. I can honestly and decisively say that this was the moment I became a cinephile. In 2009, I ranked The Royal Tenenbaums as my sixth favourite film. It has only grown in my estimation, as it sits second or third at the moment, only behind Woody Allen's brilliant Hannah and Her Sisters. Why do I love Wes Anderson? His films are so beautifully decorated that they seem to exist in a parallel dimension. Yet, I believe these are places I can visit. His characters are so unique and eccentric. An oddball is always lured by a fellow nutcracker. The Grand Budapest Hotel is Anderson's eighth feature film and it is the first to star Ralph Fiennes. Fiennes, who was perfect in The Constant Gardener (2005), has never been better (and that includes both Quiz Show (1994) and Schindler's List (1993)). Fiennes just seems built to speak Anderson's lyrical dialogue. The Grand Budapest Hotel is primarily set during the 1930s, between the world wars, in the fictional eastern European Republic of Zubrowka. The sets are created with such delicate care that they could be a confection made by Mendl's, the fictional bakery of the film. Fiennes commands the film alongside newcomer Tony Revolori, but the film features clever cameos from Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, F. Murray Abraham, Adrien Brody, Jude Law, Harvey Keitel, Saorise Ronan, Jeff Goldblum, and Anderson favourites Bill Murray and Owen Wilson. Due to my love and admiration for The Royal Tenenbaums, it is hard to say that The Grand Budapest Hotel is Anderson's best film, but it tries its hardest to tempt me. It is Anderson's most well-written story and his most expertly styled film.

The Grand Budapest Hotel features narratives set in three different periods. The story is introduced by a girl visiting a monument to an unnamed author. Said author (Jude Law) visited the Grand Budapest Hotel in the 1960s where he was told the story of Monsieur Gustave H. (Fiennes) by the hotel's owner, Zero Moustafa (Abraham). Zero was the lobby boy to Monsieur Gustave in the 1930s. Zero (the younger played by Revolori) was completely devoted to Gustave and he worked tirelessly to prove his worth. In 1932, during the hotel's final years of glory when Zubrowka is on the precipice of war, Gustave is accused of killing one of his elderly lovers, eighty-four year old Madame D (the unrecognizable Tilda Swinton). Zero recounts to the author the fascinating story of his unwavering devotion after Gustave was sent to prison.

Moonrise Kingdom, released in 2012, is a completely different film to The Grand Budapest Hotel. It felt much less linear. The Grand Budapest Hotel has a consistent vision that helps Anderson and the audience navigate the incredible number of plot points. As I try to remember the story, I realize that so much happened inside the film, which is barely 100 minutes long. Everything on screen is so luscious and beautifully crafted. Anderson made a model to represent the hotel on screen, which requires a funicular to scale its mountain facade. The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Robert Yeoman, who has worked every Anderson film except Fantastic Mr Fox. It is hard to believe that his other credits include The Heat (2013), Get Him to the Greek (2010) and Yes Man (2008). I have absolutely nothing to critique for the film. It is absolutely the best film that I have seen in 2014. It was take a miracle at this point to topple it. Character, story, setting, production, styling. Everything is impeccably done. Let us hope that The Grand Budapest Hotel will remain part of our consciousness in the busy awards season to come.

My rating: A solid 4 stars out of 4.

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