Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Léa Seydoux, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson and Tony Revolori
Running Time: 99 minutes
Release Date: March 7th
Wes Anderson’s eight and finest picture to date is the story of M Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), the concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel, as told by his protege lobby boy Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham as the elderly man retelling the tale and Tony Revolori as the young boy within the story).
On the surface the film is a caper featuring murder, jealous family infighting and stolen art; slightly beneath that is an American storyteller dreaming of pre-war Europe, of the decadence that must have flowed through the former Austro-Hungarian Empire before the jackboot of fascism crushed everything before it. The film is dedicated to Stefan Zweig. Prior to seeing the film I could only have told you two things about Zweig: that he was a writer of whose works I had read nothing; and of his suicide in Brazil during the war. His death came at the height of the Third Reich’s conquest of Europe, the sense of despair for the loss of a world and society he loved so much must have been soul-crushing. Although I cannot talk of any narrative influences, the film is certainly embedded with a terrifying undercurrent of the reach of fascism and true sense of mourning for a time that will never be seen again.
It must be said that despite all the hallmarks of a Wes Anderson film, a lot of the success here is completely due to Ralph Fiennes. He takes the reigns of his character and gallops through the diegesis like a man possessed. Living and breathing every inch of his body as Gustave, we haven’t seen him having this much fun since his turn as the murderous Harry in In Bruges. Although Anderson has now reached the point where he can cast A-list actors in one line parts, it speaks volumes for Fiennes performance that the film always feels slightly flatter when he’s not on screen. This is not to rob the supporting cast of their dues; Adrien Brody is hs usual, excellent self, while Willem Dafoe plays the most Willem Dafoe-esque part to ever exist.
As mentioned, all the hallmarks of Anderson’s work remain intact. The it-shouldn’t-work-but-somehow-does dialogue, the insane attention to narrative detail and the meticulously retrofitted sets. These qualities have always been endearingly charming but here, things are taken up a gear. Anderson’s work has always had a theatrical quality to it and with the sitting of this film, it’s like he’s chosen to embrace this with arms wide open. From the outdoor scenes in Germany’s old towns to the prison, the bakery and the hotel itself, it could almost have been Anderson’s stage debut. Even the animated scenes don’t seem to jar stylistically. Its historical staging has freed Anderson from any need to base his vision in the “real world: and instead we are transported wholeheartedly into his mind, and what a joyous place it is to be.
There may, someday, come a time when we tire of Anderson’s shtick. With every passing film I think that surely he can’t hope to get away with it again. Yet, each time he comes back it is somehow very familiar, but at the same time very different. Anderson retains a truly unique eye in modern cinema and to his credit does seem intent on slowly developing it. May he continue to find financing and long may he continue to turn out gems such as this.
Review originally appeared on Notebooks on Cinema.