Reel Look: The Grand Budapest Hotel

From the colorful and quirky mind of Wes Anderson comes yet another triumph for this director/screenwriter. By using lavish visual environments and exploring deeply emotional ideas, Anderson intertwines pathos with style to unlock the very nature of human sentimentality.

Based on the 1944 memoir of Austrian playwright and journalist Stephan Zweig, the comedy-drama stars Ralph Fiennes as a Shakespeare-spouting concierge. Together with one of his employees, albeit only friend, they set out to prove his innocence after he is framed for murder. What ensues is is engrossing and enjoyable indeed.

Grossing $46 million plus to date, Anderson’s latest does not disappoint. From his trademark comedy, idiosyncratic characters, and pastel-colored perfectionism, he raises the bar to new heights yet again for himself and his audience. But with all that said, what truly makes The Grand Budapest so grand? Let’s take a look.

In present day, a teenage girl approaches a monument built to a writer in a snow-covered cemetery decorated with various hotel lobby keys.  In her arms she holds a memoir penned by a character only known as “The Author.” She then begins reading a chapter about a trip he personally made to the Grand Budapest in the late 1960’s as a much leaner and younger man, portrayed by Jude Law.

He visits the fictional Republic of Zubrowka, a European alpine state ravaged by war and poverty. The Grand Budapest has indeed fallen on hard times, as it has appeared to have lost its essence of grandeur due to the tragic war-ridden atmosphere of the nation. Many of the lustrous facilities of the place are now in a poor state of repair, and the guests seemed to have dwindled down to hardly anyone.

Image from Graphite Journal
Image from Graphite Journal

It is here that “The Author” encounters the owner of the old hotel one afternoon named Zero Mustafa (F. Murray Abraham). Over dinner in the Budapest’s enormous dining hall, Zero tells the tale of how he came to take ownership of the establishment and why he is adamant about not closing it down for good.  His story begins back in the heyday of the hotel in 1932, during its final glory days before the Republic became infested by war.

When young Zero first came to the hotel and worked as a lobby boy (played by Tony Revolori) he also befriended the elegantly-spoken and devoted concierge Monsieur Gustave H. While not engaging with the wealthy clientele or managing the staff, Gustave is busy courting a series of aged blonde women, as they flock to the hotel for his “exceptional service.”

It is, in my opinion, Fiennes’ character that makes the biggest impression on the film.  His rapid-fire delivery and dry wit throughout kept the film moving along ebulliently, thanks to Anderson’s genius script. One of the ladies he spends the night with prior to her departure the next morning is the elderly Madame D. (Tilda Swinton).

A few days later, Gustave is informed that Madame D. has died due to mysterious circumstances. Taking Zero with him, he races to her wake and the reading of the will, where he learns that she has bequeathed a valuable painting to him entitled “Boy with Apple.” Her family is thus enraged, all of whom have hoped to inherit it.  But none is more enraged than her wild-haired son with the short fuse, Dmitri Desgoffe-und-Taxis (monstrously performed by Adrian Brody), who lashes out at Gustave.

With the help of Zero, Gustave takes the painting, returns to the Grand Budapest and stores the sacred artifact in the hotel vault.  During the journey, Gustave makes a pact with Zero—in return for the latter’s assistance, he makes the lobby boy his soulful heir. Shortly after, Gustave is arrested and imprisoned for the supposed murder of Madame D., and it is up to Zero to clear his name to find the real assassin who set him up in the first place.

I will not spoil it for you, but what follows shortly afterwards is a madcap, yet sublime whodunit along with a menagerie of memorable caricatures all toting unique and peculiar personas as only Anderson can create with psychology and pen in tow. The result is a colorful melee of crime and capers just waiting to be gobbled up by Anderson fans and the public alike; a sumptuous treat for the eyes as almost actually sampling a Mendl’s confection.

Image from Cinefex
Image from Cinefex

The film was shot entirely on location in Germany, mainly in Görlitz and other parts of Saxony, as well as at Studio Babelsberg. Anderson chose to shoot the film in three aspect ratios — 1.33, 1.85, and 2.35:1, one for each timeline. For wide shots of the hotel, Anderson went with a nine-foot-tall handmade miniature model. Anderson states: “The particular brand of artificiality that I like to use is an old fashioned one.”

I also admire how Anderson incorporates the Grand Budapest as an actual character in the film as well; the eye of the storm that shuts out the hurricane that is the outside world around it. The movie, after all, demands repeatable viewings, mainly due to its quick humor and amazing visuals. It is pretty much an old-fashioned screwball comedy but in color, and Anderson, cast and crew pull it off fluently. Garishly garbed, deceptively thoughtful and dizzily eccentric, Grand Budapest pulls all the right stops into turning its oft macabre into supple jokes.

To truly experience the flume ride down the snowy slopes of this original director’s psyche, you will have to check out the Grand Budapest to check in for your stay.  And once the time comes for you to leave, you will want to check in again just to experience the thrill twice fold. A hotel flick that truly boasts an eight-star room and board out of ten, it blows expectations and definitely deserves anything but a “Zero.”