Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Jude Law, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Léa Seydoux, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson and Bob Balaban
Hollywood's very own mad hatter, Wes Anderson made another extravagant film filled with quirk, wit, charm and dazzling visuals. His films are always labeled as 'style over substance' by people who are not willing to look beyond the surface. It is their own shortcoming, rather than digging just a little deeper, they make statements which tend to come across as condescending. The Grand Budapest Hotel has such a sad undercurrent, so much darkness underneath it all. Like "Moonrise Kingdom" previously, there is more to the film than its aesthetics. There is more to the story and why it is being told. There is more to the characters and why they are what they are. Legacy, the past and cultural identity is an important aspect here. History defines and it is to be remembered and learned from. Cultural heritage, historical background, where we come from, these are not just trivial factors in life. The Grand Budapest Hotel released earlier this year is a wonderful comedy film that is inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig. At Berlin Film Festival, it won the Jury Grand Prix Silver Bear award. The reviews and general response from audience and critics alike was exceptional. Ralph Fiennes stars as Monsieur Gustave H. who is the concierge of this glorious hotel, later accused of murder. He teams up with his most favorite employee, the lobby boy Zero Moustafa to prove his innocence. This film is a hysterical rollercoaster ride filled with great humor and thrill, entertainment and self-awareness, historical fiction and authentic emotions. As usual with Anderson's films, the highly versatile ensemble of actors play quirky and over the top characters. Not sure how he is able to come up with these colorful people who cannot be easily defined. And then finding particular actors for them, he of course usually works with the same actors.
The Grand Budapest Hotel's narrative style is representative of its themes and the core ideas. Passage of time is painted and shown with every required color, the bright and the dull. Everything is so neatly packed for us to savor, you don't want to look away. The Grand Budapest Hotel is telling us a story. As the film opens in the present, a young girl is seen holding a memoir in her arms and walking towards a monument of the writer. She starts reading that book from the chapter where the writer's 1968 visit to the Grand Budapest Hotel is mentioned. The hotel is located in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka in Europe. War has brought down among many other things, this gem of a structure with itself. Poverty and adverse conditions have left many parts of this hotel without its full facilities that it used to offer before. The gorgeous mountainside hotel is empty now, the rich and élite guests that it used to welcome are no more interested due to the harsh times. The Author as he is called meets the elderly owner of the hotel, Zero Mustafa (Abraham). They sit in a huge dining room which looks more empty than ever and discusses the history of this historical hotel. Mustafa is unwilling to close it down because he cannot let go of everything that happened to him, his entire life was lived here and he bonded with important people in his life all because of the Grand Budapest Hotel. Wes Anderson filmed every single timeline of this film in different aspect ratios, a nice technical touch. It is not just a stylistic choice but a reminder that what he is doing here is painting every single layer of the story for our experience. There is always a distinct identity and air to a decade and time. Every era hold in itself, so much of what made the next big thing possible. Life is a continuous journey and it never stops. So what happened before is as much important as what is about to happen next. The film draws us in page-by-page, layer-by-layer in this fascinating tale. Like that girl in the beginning, we are reading this book about the hotel and the people associated with it. Not just reading but hearing, experiencing and seeing it all unfold from an artist's perspective. A writer who was touched by his visit and what he learned, just like the people in our life who inspires us in different ways.
From the sad, melancholy filled yet humorous opening few minutes, we enter the completely zany and hilarious main part of the story. The year is 1932 and the Grand Budapest Hotel is run exceptionally well by Gustave (Fiennes), hotel's firm backbone. He manages the staff and sees to the need of his clients. There is nothing he wont know about the basic care people wants or need in the hotel, always so aware and great at managing everything. He is also known for some rather 'special services' he provides for the aging women, this hotel is their desirable place to be in. A people's servant in the best sense, always looking after and keeping everybody else's needs before his. Among his greatest admirers is an aged woman named Madame Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe und Taxis or Madame D (Swinton). Gustav takes special care of her and is also there to comfort her emotionally because there seems to be something wrong. A month later, Madame D dies very suspiciously. Gustave takes Zero along with him and finds that Madame D has left him a valuable painting called "Boy with Apple" in her will. Her family is angry at this, specially her son Dmitri Desgoffe-und-Taxis (Brody) who accuses him of taking advantage of Madame D. Gustave is then accused of murdering Madame D and is imprisoned. What follows are some exciting and fascinating turns in the life of both Gustave and Zero. The Grand Budapest Hotel during these parts turns into a crime caper with the dry but delightful humor. There are some signature Wes Anderson sequences that are exciting to watch because of their construct and depiction. The prison scenes and the riotous escape. Or the shootout sequence and many more. There isn't a moment in the film mostly that doesn't pack any energy and excitement. Even when the film should have turned utterly ridiculous and a bit too much even for its premise, the various adventures that Gustave and Zero finds themselves in are some of the highlights of the film. A furious assassin follows them, there are chases and murders.
The Grand Budapest Hotel features some of the best ensembles ever assembled for a film of its kind (don't we say that for every Anderson film?). There are smaller appearances that nevertheless delights and amuses like Jason Schwartzman, Mathieu Amalric, Owen Wilson, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Léa Seydoux etc. Some nice turns by actors like Saoirse Ronan who plays Zero's love interest, she looks beautiful but her part isn't the most strongest of the bunch. You also have actors like Jude Law, Jeff Goldblum and Edward Norton with some fine moments. Adrien Brody plays a ridiculously stiff character, something that suits him well. Among the most purely fun-tastic characters are played by both Willem Dafoe and Tilda Swinton. Swinton as usual gives one of the three good turns this year playing unusual characters (the other two being Only Lovers Left Alive and Snowpiercer - and no I am not counting The Zero Theorem). She is so majestic and transformative, under the piles of make up and ridiculous get ups with insane accents and parts. There is nobody like her, none of the actors have what she has to pull off such off-kilter performances. She can be anything you want like a Chameleon. Yes I will stop now. On the other hand, Dafoe plays an over the top assassin in a cross between sinister Lynchian mafia man and somebody out of a Loony Tunes episode and he is good at it. Of the two main characters of the film, Zero Mustafa is played by two actors. Tony Revolori plays the younger Mustafa while F. Murray Abraham plays the older. It is not just the characters who come across is wildly different in the two timelines of the film but also the performances have various opposite effects. Revolori while delivering your typical sad-faced, droll performance is pretty fine. Abraham on the opposite is great in highlighting the emotions of his character and plays his part with depth and clarity. His voice is heavy and he speaks with so much weight. There is a longing to be seen in his eyes. I bet it was Anderson's decision to highlight how young and inexperienced Mustafa grew up to be such a vital and down-to-earth figure. With years of life experience and so much that he learned on his way. It is a contrast that is unlikely a fault in the script and more a decision I believe. Last and definitely not the least, Ralph Fiennes delivers one of the best performances of his career. The best performance in the film and his most stunning turn since Cronenberg's "Spider". What a part Anderson had to offer and how amazing the end-results seems to be. Fiennes' comic timings are off the charts good and his line deliveries are exceptional. A giddy, glorious and gem of a performance with so much audacity going on. Fiennes lights up the screen as if it needed any more of that but he is the heart and soul of this film. Gustave is both a tragic figure as well as a funny clown of sorts. Fiennes' performance brims with so much audaciousness and will no doubt stand out among the bunch at the end of the year.
The Grand Budapest Hotel has a beautiful score and costumes work. But the production design of this film is some of the greatest. The interiors of the hotel and the rooms, the exteriors, set-pieces, every bit of design, just magnificent. So much creative freedom and visual dexterity is visible. The vivacious designs of everything, from furniture to the colors and from cars and trains to what not. Stunning array of extraordinary talent and breathtaking beauty on display. This is the production design to beat this year and some of the greatest in a Hollywood film. Every frame of this film is filled with colors and different textures. Like expertly made food courses of different kind by some of the best chefs in the world. As you bite into it, there are a whole lot of crunch, crisps, hits and tastes to be found. The pace with which the film jumps from one magnificent frame to the other is superb. It reminds me of the Czech New Wave feature "Daisies". The Grand Budapest Hotel has cheeky sometimes borderline farcical comedic moments and whimsical touches. Then you have the sadder undercurrents that leaves you with such a different feeling. The biting black comedy of the film presents us with a visions of how fascism robbed history of so much. Not just the obvious but art and expression. Of an entire culture and sophistication, of architecture and basically... fun. The military, historical farcical elements aren't given very obvious treatment here but if one looks back, it is easier to grasp why they are included. Read into the history of many countries and you will find such examples of how rules and rulers completely stripped their nations of what made them so special. The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of the most entertaining and hilariously thoughtful films of the year and one of the best for sure. Anderson isn't stopping here, he is growing out and into his style and multiple array of storytelling and visual splendors. Here is to more sad-but-funny, melancholic-but-amusing, weird-but-glorious films and characters. Watch The Grand Budapest Hotel for the film that it is. A special film unlike many these days that exists in its own colorful universe yet touches one with the honesty that it so unabashedly nurtures under layers of the funny and the hilarious.