Wes Anderson has always had a knack, nay – an unprecedented dexterity – of creating a delightfully absurd world to pitch in his stories to the audience. With The Grand Budapest Hotel, he emerges out in triumph: walking away not only with aesthetic finesse, but also a true wit and darkness at the center of his film’s premise. In its opening minutes, the film grounds us with Anderson’s signature quirks of quick-zooms and over-designed set pieces. We simply walk up to the concierge, and as we take each step into admiring the poetic beauty of it all, we gladly offer it our time and extend our stay.
Inspired from the melancholy works of the late Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, Anderson freely engages in his fetishes to paint the canvas of his film in a way that is both eye-poppingly pretty and morose. The sadness that runs throughout the course of the film is in the same vein as Anderson’s devoted love to the lost past. He makes his actors scurry across the lushness of his imagination with brimming foolishness and heart. The setting of prewar Europe is scaled in an overtly colorful way, but the film never fails to entertain, delight, and occasionally make our heart melt. That is perhaps the main concern on our part as a viewer of a film like this: never let its enchantment seduce you into overlooking the amount of wisdom and tenderness floating below the surface.
Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave shoulders the heavy responsibility of sailing the film through the sea of its quirkiness with absolute skill and control. He is complimented in equal mastery of character by Toni Revolori as ‘Zero’, the Lobby Boy who would later come to inherit the hotel from Gustave. The candor of the ridiculously literal dialogue that passes back and forth from the characters is classic Anderson. The Grand Budapest Hotel happily skips from being wildly funny to obsessively charming to disarmingly tender with such energy that its difficult not to fall for it. Full props to production and art design, as well as the costume designers who toiled through the nights to craft this magnificent vision of the crazed director at the helm. Robert Yeoman lenses the madcap proceedings with signature swoops and slashes, and is matched step for step by the symphony of Alexandre Desplat’s melodious background score.
True to his familiar touches, the writer-director introduces several amusing cameos and appearances of his favorites: Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman and his long-time friend and collaborator, Owen Wilson. The film is part satire, part lament on the cruelty of war, part worship to the zany spirit of a lost time, and part salute to maintaining the illusion of reality. It is a Van Gogh painting brought to life, underlined with Shakespearean pathos and recited in the murmurs of a Keats poem: a mad genius hallucinating on the drug of cinema.
The refinement of Anderson’s style is never dull, but the deeper implications of his actual motives are understated. Get lost in the flow of the narrative and really look. You will be astonished beyond your senses. The visual allure that hypnotizes you would soon manifest into an acidic, deadpan congregation of sadness.
“You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity.”