In last year, I purchased “The Wes Anderson Collection” written by my acquaintance Matt Zoller Seitz, the book which is still looking upon me in the bookcase above my laboratory desk. I have not delved into this big, lovely hardcover book yet, but I admired the fabulous job by Seitz and his co-workers as I scanned through its pages. That charming aesthesia shown in those whimsy movies by Wes Anderson is nicely presented through their bountiful details and precise compositions on every page, and that naturally reminded me of why I came to like his films despite my reservation on some of them(I’m not a big fan of “Bottle Rocket”(1996), for example).
Anderson’s new film “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, which recently received the Jury Grand Prix Silver Bear award at the Berlin International Film Festival in last year, is another whimsy and stylish work which has lots of goodies as enjoyable to look as Seitz’s book. Decorated with the debonair attitude reminiscent of Ernest Lubitsch’s classic comedy films, the movie is as amusing as you can expect from Anderson’s movie, and we gladly go along with its colorful characters who sometimes reveal genuine feelings behind their comic fantasy world brimming with amiable quirkiness.
Its bittersweet story is told through the Author(Tom Wilkinson), who is, as Anderson said in the recent interviews, inspired by Austrian author Stefan Zweig(I have never read any of his works except his biography of Marie Antoinette, by the way). In the opening scene, we see a young girl visiting the cemetery where the Author is honored, and, as she reads one of his works, the Author begins to tell directly to us about how he happened to encounter its inspiration when he was younger during the late 1960s. During his trip in some eastern European country named Zubrowka(it is a fictional one, of course), the Author(played by Jude Law at this point) spent several days in the Grand Budapest Hotel, which was not so impressive to him in many aspects at that time. While there are little remains of the grandeur it had once, the mood of the hotel is not very cheerful, and there were only few guests besides the Author – and they mostly prefer solitude to companionship.
And then the Author comes to meet Zero Moustafa(F. Murray Abraham), who worked as an employee in the hotel a long time ago and has been its owner for many years. They soon have a private dinner in the big dining hall of the hotel, and Moustafa tells the Author about how he came to own the hotel even though he was a mere lobby boy in the beginning.
Moustafa’s old story mainly revolves around him and his boss M. Gustave(Ralph Fiennes), who was the concierge of the hotel in 1932. As an unflappable man of manner and sophistication, Gustave has managed his hotel with style and efficiency, and he is particularly good with his old, rich female guests. Whenever they want him, he is always ready for giving them whatever they desire, and, as far as we can see, he does not feel that bad about his personal room service, probably because he believes that is a part of his job for keeping his hotel in its glorious style.
One of his old ladies is Madame D(Tilda Swinton, who gamely immerses herself in full aging make-up)., and his long, intimate relationship with Madame D. puts Gustave and his world in a serious trouble. Not long after her another staying at the hotel, Madame D. is found dead at her residence under a suspicious circumstance, and her mean, greedy son Dmitri(Adrien Brody, who does everything for looking villainous except twirling his mustache) is not pleased to know that Gustave is going to get a valuable painting, though he is going to inherit nearly everything from his mother. While Gustave manages to get the painting and keep it in a safe place, he soon finds himself framed up for murder and then arrested and incarcerated in jail.
Not only getting out of this problem but also trying to prove his innocence, Gustave and young Moustafa(Tony Revolori) go through the series of perilous circumstances, and the movie tickles us with a number of humorous moments popping out here and there in their hilarious adventure. In case of the sequence involved with their secret rendezvous with a certain character at the top of a snowy mountain, it is accompanied with several absurd moments as they are trying to meet that guy, and then it eventually culminates to a funny winter sports action scene which merrily does not care much about how unrealistic it looks to us. Following the time-honored tradition of screwball comedies, the movie gives us the climax scene where a big farcical clash happens between many characters, and we get some unexpected laughs as observing the inherent silliness inside their chaotic situation.
The movie sparkles technically and artistically. Shuffling between three different screen ratios for each time point in the story, the cinematography by Robert Yeoman is smooth and exact in its movements and compositions, and the gorgeous production design by Adam Stockhausen always provides something nice to appreciate and savor on the screen. Even in the 1960s part where the hotel looks relatively drab compared to its prime, the movie shines with its quirky elegance, and Alexandre Desplat, who previously collaborated with Anderson in “Fantastic Mr. Fox”(2009) and “Moonrise Kingdom”(2012), composed a jaunty score bouncing around the characters as delighting us.
Anderson assembles an impressive array of talented actors for his film. Ralph Fiennes keeps the movie floated along its plot with his rich comedy performance full of nuances, and he and his co-actor Tony Revolori have a nice comic chemistry between them. William Defoe is Dmitri’s sinister(and murderous) henchman, Jeff Goldblum is a lawyer who belatedly realizes that he is handing a very, very tricky case, and Saoirse Ronan is a bakery girl who falls in love with Moustafa and comes to help him and Gustave. Besides aforementioned actors, the movie is packed with good actors like Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban, Mathieu Amalric, Léa Seydoux, Edward Norton, and Harvey Keitel, and they all bring each own color to the film regardless of whether their roles are small or big.
On the whole, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a fun experience to be cherished. I was not that enthusiastic about Wes Anderson’s movies around the time when I began to be a little more serious about movies, but I slowly started to enjoy his quirky style as the time went by. His characters may be no more than caricatures living in artificial world, but they are usually delightful to watch as they bump around their story, and they sometimes surprise us with the sad, melancholic moments of real emotions. As bitterly reflected both in the beginning and ending of the film, that wonderful time in the past eventually becomes something never to be regained because of that irreversible passage of time, but it is also something worthwhile to be remembered at times, even though it is gone forever.