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My 12 for ’14: The Grand Budapest Hotel and faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity…

With 2014 coming to a close, we’re counting down our top twelve films of the year. Check back daily for the latest featured film.

I have yet to meet anybody who truly disliked The Grand Budapest Hotel.

I’m sure they exist. In fact, I suspect that a couple might make themselves known in the comments. However, for most of 2014, The Grand Budapest Hotel was the safest possible cinema recommendation from “that guy who really thought that Cloud Atlas and The Dark Knight Rises were the best films of their respective years.” Sure, there were people who did not love it, and a few legitimate complaints, but even the most cynical friends, acquaintances and family members warmed to Wes Anderson’s delightfully eccentric European comedy adventure thriller.

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There is a lot to like here. Anderson has always had a style that is uniquely his own, but it feels like the film maker has grown dramatically over the last couple of years. The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel are absolutely lovely pieces of cinema that look stunning and are written with just the right balance of knowing irony and sincere affection. It’s never entirely clear how much Anderson buys into the romantic fantasies constructed by his characters, but that is part of the appeal.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a fantastic accomplishment all round.

thegrandbudapesthotel4Anderson credits Austrian writer Stefan Zweig as a major influence on The Grand Budapest Hotel. As Anderson himself will readily concede, traces of the author can be found in two of the movie’s major characters – the author played by Tom Atkinson and Jude Law, as well as the mysterious concierge Gustave H. played by Ralph Fiennes. The movie’s rather anxious European setting owes a conscious debt to Zweig’s longest novel, Beware of Pity; whose introductory scenes are set against the backdrop of 1938.

Like Zweig, Anderson structures The Grand Budapest Hotel as a story-within-a-story. In Beware of Pity, the story jumps back from a dinner party in 1938 to a romance during the First World War. In The Grand Budapest Hotel, the action jumps back no less than three times – from the present day to the mid-eighties, from the mid-eighties to the late sixties, from the late sixties to the thirties. This ignores the various narrative detours and diversions that the story takes to flesh out its own particular world. It is fantastically constructed.

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It is easy to take the film’s beauty for granted. The Grand Budapest Hotel might be Anderson’s most visually impressive film, managing to transition the elegant and stylised textures of The Fantastic Mr. Fox into live action. Anderson’s films have always seemed stylised and hyper-real, but The Grand Budapest Hotel seems to exist in an ambiguous space somewhere between a live action film and a classic hand-animated cartoon. It is something to behold, and almost every frame is stunning.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is crafted so elegantly that one suspects even Gustave H. himself would approve. Adam Stockhausen’s production design, Anna Pinnock ‘s set decoration, Milena Canonero’s costume design, Alexandre Desplat’s score, Robert D. Yeoman’s cinematography, Stephan O. Gessler’s art direction; every element of The Grand Budapest Hotel is put together with so much care and love that it is impossible not to appreciate the final result. It looks like a movie put together by an artisan.

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Of course, the production would be nothing without the witty self-aware script, or the fantastic cast. Anderson has a knack for assembling ensembles, and The Grand Budapest Hotel is populated with eccentric and intriguing individuals. Jeff Goldblum’s slow-talking deadpan lawyer is a highlight, as is Willem Dafoe’s brutal assassin or Edward Norton’s determined police investigator. None of these characters are given enough space to develop into three-dimensional individuals, and the actors are keenly aware of this – playing them as storybook characters.

However, the real joy of The Grand Budapest Hotel comes from the lead actors. Tony Revolori is superb as the younger version of Zero, the young bellboy at the eponymous institution. Revolori responds beautifully to the madness around him, keeping his head and holding his own amid a star-studded cast of heavy-hitters. However, Ralph Fiennes offers a revelatory performance in a role originally written for Johnny Depp. By this point, Fiennes’ talents should not be surprising, but he brings the eccentricities of Gustave H. to life.

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Gustave is a fascinating character – a mysterious figure who never talks about his past, and who maintains an impeccably suave exterior while clearly responding emotionally to the world around him. Gustave is a man who knows that you catch more flies with honey that you will with vinegar, making his more candid moments all the more refreshing and sincere. He is a character who has worked so well to develop his quirky and affable persona that he doesn’t even drop the sweet flirtations when talking to a corpse.

That is the real beauty of The Grand Budapest Hotel. In many ways, the film resembles the delicious confections manufactured by Mendls. The exterior is a delicious piece of pastry; it is light and delicate, beautifully packaged and looking nothing short of sumptuous. The production design looks lovely and elegant, if perhaps a little light and airy. Ralph Fiennes’ performance offers the film a rich and textured core – one nuanced and flavourful. It makes for quite the tasty dish.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel offers one of the year’s most appetising films.

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4 Responses

  1. By far my favourite film of the year (and I loved ‘Gone Girl’ and the ‘Wolf of Wall Street’).

    It’s amazing how much emotional punch the ending gives to what has gone before. Just a beautiful, hilarious, melancholy wonder of a movie.

    • Yep. It’s amazing how the (relatively) frothy caper invests you in these characters, even if the broad strokes of the ending is quite clear from the prologue sequence. (Boy with Apple hangs in foyer, the hotel is in decline.)

      A stunning piece of work.

  2. My sister and I couldn’t stop laughing when we went to see this in the cinema, I think it’s definitely one of the best films of the year.

    • Yep. A beautiful film. I’ve rewatched it four times with four sets of people, and each loved it. And I haven’t tired of it. Which is remarkable.

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