Moonrise Kingdom (2013) was the final nail in the coffin for Wes Anderson’s detractors, with many calling for a moratorium on the director’s wilfully idiosyncratic sensibilities. Whilst The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) is unlikely to win over any of his critics, the manner in which the American auteur embroiders his distinctive style with an ornate sense of sophistication makes this heavily stylised crime caper an inescapably alluring invitation to cavort in a bygone era of imperial pomp and ceremony. A saga steeped in nostalgia and concerned with the capricious nature of memory in an embryonic world, The Grand Budapest Hotel takes place in fictional Zubrowka sometime within the thirties.
Anderson’s flippant dissection of the European ruling classes plays out across a series of chapters, with his characteristically multifaceted narrative unfurling like a matryoshka doll; revealing a series of secrets and lies at every juncture before concluding in a bijou of immeasurable frivolity. The enigmatic proprietor of the eponymous hotel, Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) dictates the story to us as he recounts the hotel’s illustrious history to an eager writer (Jude Law). He goes to great lengths to explain the relationship shared by apprentice lobby boy Zero (newcomer Tony Revolori) and his flamboyant, arrogant and exceedingly vain tutor Gustave H (a superb Ralph Fiennes).
Gustave was the hotel’s accomplished and greatly admired concierge, a man of exquisite taste and a fondness for the aging dames who frequent the hotel. However, when one of Gustave’s admirers passes away and leaves him a precious and extremely valuable painting, the pair find themselves embroiled in scandal and quickly on the wrong side of the law. You know what you’re going to get when you arrive at an Anderson party. You’ll be met with a familiar assortment of eclectic characters, all drawn from the same pool of reliable players. Then there’s the meticulous composition, the warm inviting pastel shades and the charmingly idiosyncratic soundtrack. Many have criticised Anderson for the constant reprocessed aesthetics apparent his work, almost as if it were a form of delicious self-parody.
Yet here, Anderson should be applauded for becoming a distinct, and totally unique voice in an increasingly regimented cinematic landscape. Instead of recoiling or adapting his style Anderson has laudably stood firm. This may well be the zenith of the director’s eccentricities, and feels very much like an elegantly written, opulently packaged memo that reads like a repost to his naysayers. Though one stop-motion chase scene does unfortunately remove us temporarily from the soft textures of the film’s elegantly fashioned diorama of Imperial Europe’s valediction into an erroneous pop-up book of antiquated chic and anachronistic gaiety, its surrounds are surely the operatic magnum opus that Anderson had in him.
At once elegant and bawdy, refined and unassuming, Anderson’s latest recalls the frivolous spirit of revered actor and director Ernst Lubitsch’s sophisticated Hollywood comedies. Like Lubitsch, Anderson treads the fine line between comedy and tragedy, before eventually falling face first into an elaborate trifle of whimsical fancy. With The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson’s charm and triviality has been gracefully gift-wrapped like a box of fine chocolates ready for mass consumption, yet like all truly luxurious treats this one feels like its been specifically prepared just for us.
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