*Author’s note: As always, I have avoided spoilers – so there will be little discussion of the story itself. *
Wes Anderson’s work has a tendency to rub some people the wrong way. I will never understand them. They must see the world weirdly, in a different hue, to a different score.
So does Wes, though from the other side of the river. To him, high-speed chases are madcap and villainous affairs, superimposed over a green-screen with lashings of ‘30s-era slapstick. He loves a nicely divided frame, saturated colour, smooth pans and tilts. He subscribes to the school of screenwriting where wordiness is godliness, characters with the smallest roles can sometimes have the biggest impacts and a scene – in fact, a shot – lingers as long as it should. Each score is bouncing and epic, intimate and sentimental. Effects are used for effect, not to hide lack of talent.
This is Wes Anderson. This is ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’: film-number-eight for this most talented underground-turned-populist-turned-pop-artist-filmmaker.
Like the number eight itself, Grand Budapest comes full circle, back in on itself, beautifully and carefully framed from the perspective of a young lady reading a book about the classic (fictionalized) European hotel and its proprietors, framed again from the narration of the author who uncovers its secrets.
It’s dense, energetically presented and wonderful – though as my friend suggested after our screening, for those first five minutes you’d be forgiven for thinking Anderson was retreading his old tropes a few too many times. Those feelings disappear by the sixth minute.
Going down the list, Anderson’s films progressively become more artful, more deliberate, more surreal: ‘Bottle Rocket’ warmed his eye and set him in motion, ‘Rushmore’ pulls it together ornately and masterfully, ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ darkens his tone and assembles key players, ‘The Life Aquatic’ dips toes in surrealism and adventure, ‘The Darjeeling Limited’ is all citrus tones and bleakly funny – a road trip drama, ‘The Fantastic Mr. Fox’ combines these elements – and does so flawlessly for the harshest audience of all before ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ returns to the children who watched his last film and makes their perspectives and struggles the focus.
Going by this train of thought, Grand Budapest compiles all of these learnings – the verbose scripting, the set dressings that rub up against obsessive-compulsive, the gracious cast, the child star, the adult tones, the humour and warmth and love – and adds a little more, extending Wes’ reach.
What’s new? History. This time, Wes crafts his vision of Wartime Europe – a romanticized and plush slice of the tensions between Germany, France, Russia, the British and the people caught in between; the small lives painted very large.
Ralph Fiennes plays opposite protégé and first-time actor Tony Revolori. A perfect match for Fiennes’ campy sophisticate, Revolori is an unlikely hero, which makes perfect sense when you go back and examine Wes’ deliberate casting choices throughout his films. He roots for the underdog in his writing – and does so in his casting too.
The old-guard come out to play, punching through obtuse and playful language to deliver something truly special. F. Murray Abraham’s monologues are delivered to Jude Law’s wanting ears and bespectacled eyes. Willem Dafoe is menace on legs as snivelling Adrien Brody’s muscle. Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel and Edward Norton all shine in small roles that sit perfectly alongside the meaty leads. A transformative Tilda Swinton and the always warm Bill Murray pop in for their clever parts, supported by a list of stars twice as long again. You will recognize some from Wes’ catalogue – and others you’ll remember from now on in everything else they do.
Such is the power of The Grand Budapest Hotel – a fine comedy, a finer adventure and probably the finest work Wes Anderson has completed to date. This is more than the sums equated – it is Wes working his magic to accomplish a vision that dances over cat-calls of over-stylish and derivative direction to deliver a film that indeed makes you feel like you’ve really watched a film.