When one thinks of Wes Anderson a number of things come to mind: zany and endearing characters, fantastic set design, meticulous direction and editing, so on and so forth. It wouldn’t be unfair of me to say that Anderson is of a required taste. To those who champion him he is one of the most innovative directors in cinema today- an artist who has turned artifice into his key weapon. To his detractors he is a man who struggles to find the balance between quirky and irksome, a director with a tendency to revel in self indulgence.
But even his detractors would struggle not to admire the magical world Anderson has created with the Grand Budapest Hotel. Every item has its place in Anderson’s film and one imagines that a series of bloopers would merely be the occasionally misplaced piece of paper or a hat sitting to far to the right on an extras head.
Anderson’s film doesn’t try to hide it’s artificial nature, it revels in it. Like the Hotel itself the movie is an elaborate wedding cake, a delicate and intricately designed luxury with hidden pleasures that are discovered with second servings.
The movie is a mise en abyme, that is, a story within a story, within a story. Filled with self reflections and nostalgic cravings Anderson paints a beautiful vision of an era on the brink of collapse, a romantic time which, with war approaching can do nothing but face its impending demise with dignity and a stiff upper lip.
This ideal is embodied in Monseiur Gustave H, the concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel, played superbly by Ralph Fiennes in one of the most surprisingly successful turns in recent memory. Gustave is in many ways the tragic hero of the movie, a romantic soul filled with charm, always armed with a quick witticism and never one to shy away from the occasional burst of vulgarity, he is the last relic of a time gone by. ‘You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilisation left in this slaughterhouse we call humanity’ Gustave muses on a train journey with his lobby boy and best friend Zero. He is a man who will live and die by his sophisticated ideals.
It is the relationship he shares with his aforementioned lobby boy Zero that helps provide the beating heart of this movie. A mismatch from the start Gustave takes Zero under his wing and soon drags him into the zany caper that provides the movies main narrative thrust.
Gustave, it transpires through the movie is left an invaluable painting by a guest of the Grand Budapest whom he used to ‘take care of’ whenever she visited. The family of the deceased however are not to pleased with this and attempt to reclaim the painting from Gustave, whilst also framing him for the murder. The plot then takes us on a tour through Anderson’s beautifully imagined world introducing us to an array of weird and wonderful characters along the way. It would be easy to get caught up in describing the performances of each of the actors in the movie; Anderson has managed to add some brilliant actors to his usual array and this is one of the finest ensembles in recent years.
Last but by know means least is Anderson’s direction. Like any great auteur Anderson manages to be one of the stars of his own movies without stepping foot on screen . The asymmetrical beauty of his frames are never more apparent then they are here and this also has some of Anderson’s most ambitious sequences yet, including a clearly Hitchcock inspired cat and mouse sequence, which ends with some cartoon violence, the likes of which we have not seen from the director before. Alexandre Desplate, who collaborated with Anderson for The Fantastic Mr Fox once again provides a score which perfectly compliments the tone of the movie and Anderson’s direction.
Verdict: The Grand Budapest Hotel is Anderon’s most sophisticated work yet. Following on from the thematically ambitious and beautiful Moonrise Kingdom Anderson appears to continue to home his craft; everything from his set design to his script feels more sophisticated, this is a director at the very top of his game and cements Andersons place as one of cinemas great auteurs.