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Since the mid-1990s, the films of Wes Anderson have captivated us with their uniquely ornate style and charmingly deadpan wit. His latest creation, the whimsically seriocomic “Grand Budapest Hotel,” is like one of the hotel’s many delicate pastries – artistically crafted with just the right amount of frosting.
Playing the young Zero Moustafa in the late 1930s is newcomer Tony Revolori. At the Grand Budapest in the fictional country of Zubrowka, the refugee Zero seeks asylum working as a lobby boy. He is trained by Ralph Fiennes’ Gustave H., who most refer to as Monsieur Gustave.
Convivial and cunning, witty and wanton, Gustave has a reputation as the best – and perhaps most sinful – concierge in all of Europe. When he is accused of murdering one of his many mistresses and wrongfully willed a priceless piece of art, Zero and a wryly funny underground society of concierges come to his rescue.
What’s most hilarious about this movie is not the setup or even the characters. It’s the grim, prewar setting that they are paired with. When one prisoner kills another to keep the escape of Gustave and his cellmates a secret, Gustave thanks him sincerely and eloquently, as if he was being served tea. In the film’s final act, despite terrorizing a group of innocents, Gustave cracks jokes and tries to treat them like old friends. This satire is something akin to the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup, but unlike Groucho and the boys, Gustave engenders friendship and congeniality wherever he goes. But it’s in the moments when he’s not so genial that the film becomes more than one of Wes Anderson’s better comedies – it becomes one of his best films.
Biting at the heels of the laughter is a feeling of heaviness, a sadness these characters can’t explain because they’re in a race against time. Playing the older Zero, F. Murray Abraham’s well-written narration provides a foundation for some of the arguments he previously had with Gustave. His affection for his long-lost Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) is something he can barely bring himself to talk about, but his silence says it all. A war is brewing, but for Zero, Agatha and Gustave, the race back to the Grand Budapest was their biggest adventure.
I could talk about how many names and faces are in this movie, but really, if you’ve seen the trailers, you get the idea. The film’s real stars are Fiennes, Revolori, Ronan and Abraham.
As you would expect, Anderson’s symmetrical compositions are gorgeously detailed and crafted. It’s amazing that this is his first true period piece and I hope he takes on more of them. Another of the film’s visual cues is its use of multiple aspect ratios to illustrate changing time periods. A longtime collaborator of Anderson’s, cinematographer Robert Yeoman definitely had his hands full with this one, and he truly did some amazing work.
A friend of mine described Anderson’s oeuvre as delicate plates spinning atop sticks, threatening to fall at any moment. Even with all its moving parts, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” finds Anderson poised to catch all of his plates in midair.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” = 5/5