'The Grand Budapest Hotel' carries true Anderson tone
Wes Anderson’s debut feature was “Bottle Rocket,” the low-budget comedy he wrote with his buddy Owen Wilson shortly after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin. The film received generally positive reviews, but it grabbed critics’ attention less for the picture itself and more for the potential it showed Anderson had if he was given time to develop his technique, articulate his voice and secure an adequate budget.
Eighteen years later, The Grand Budapest Hotel presents the crystallization of Anderson’s technique and voice. Never has a film felt so Andersonian. His technique as a filmmaker has never been so precise and his mise-en-scene so meticulous, from the 2D-camera-framing to the canvas full of curio items and often candy-colored palette, so much so that some reviewers have called “The Grand Budapest” Anderson’s “Bohemia-themed dollhouse.”
The narrative itself unfolds like a Russian nesting doll. It opens with a girl reading the eponymous “The Grand Budapest Hotel” before a bust of its beloved author. The bust is made man via actor Tom Wilkinson, who tells the tale of when he came to the Grand Budapest as a young man. When he arrives, the formerly elite getaway of European society has become dilapidated, its ornate decor now tacky. Zero Moustafa (played by F. Murray Abraham), the proprietor, tells the story of when the Grand Budapest was as palatial as its name suggests. Zero’s story is about Mssr. Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), who epitomized the spirit of the Grand Budapest in his unparalleled service. Many of the hotel’s guests come solely to see Mssr. Gustave, especially the old dowagers, whom he adores.
In this fictionalized universe that seems to parallel the onset of World War II, a group of fascists, called the Zig-zags, have recently arrived. Zero’s story begins when Madame D. is murdered. She is the wealthiest of the dowagers, and bequeathes him a painting known as “Boy with Apple.” The Zig-zags suspect Mssr. Gustave of murder and seek to arrest him. Even worse, Madame D.’s evil son, Dmitri (Adrien Brody), enlists a psychopathic henchman, Jopling (Willem Dafoe), to kill Gustave before he receives his painting. The film follows Mssr. Gustave’s escape, Zero and his partner Agatha, and the underground network of concierges, known as the Society of the Crossed Keys.
Some critics say the film is inaccessible and fails to tackle some of the grave themes it brings to light. But the Andersonian-ness of “The Grand Budapest” is what makes the film such a delight — a cinematic confection. “The Grand Budapest” has something serious to say, despite its humorous delivery. It’s about how art, in a world of turmoil, can be a bastion of our humanity. This is what Mssr. Gustave does: in spite of it all, he remains the spirit of the Grand Budapest. The film bearing its name does the same, much to the satisfaction of our moviegoers.