The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel posterOver the last few months I have heard so many good things about Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel that I felt it wise to leave some space between such comments and actually watching the movie.

My main reason for this is that, in the past, I have more often than not found Anderson’s movies at best infuriating – with the notable exception of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou – and this, with its cast of familiar faces and otherworldly not quite period setting looked to be another entry in his frustrating canon.

I couldn’t have been much more wrong.

The film starts off with several framing flashbacks, which I have to admit worried me might get a bit gimmicky, particularly with the use of different aspect ratios for the different time periods, but this wasn’t the case as they weren’t over used and, in the case of the framing, fitted perfectly.

'Academy Ratio' in the 1930s set part of the movie
‘Academy Ratio’ in the 1930s set part of the movie

This is part of something that Anderson certainly has always done, in that his films always look very deliberate and, while this can be a frustrating thing, here it suits perfectly.

In fact, I was left with the impression that, much like with Kubrick, everything is exactly as chosen and selected, from a gliding camera move through a wall in the titular hotel’s baths, to a stray letter falling from the stack of correspondence dumped on a table by attorney Vilmos Kovacs (Jeff Goldblum).

This visual style extends to the odd mix of real sets with subtly animated moments that gives the whole thing an otherworldly feel, something this certainly shared in common with The Life Aquatic, which merges with a similar heightened feeling to costumes and props that genuinely drew me in and transported me away to this distant land for 96 minutes or so.

Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave
Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave

Amongst the vast ensemble cast, again all perfectly poised, dressed and positioned, one stands head and shoulders above the rest – Ralph Fiennes as Monsieur Gustave, concierge of the hotel, around whom the plot of inheritance, art theft and the outbreak of war revolves.

His performance is extremely mannered but in this context that is perfectly suited, and he is certainly funnier here than I have ever seen him, usually being a serious actor (despite departures into Harry Potter). His performance is delivered with such a brilliant deadpan that M. Gustave remains entirely believable throughout – from his wooing of aged lady hotel guests to one of the most enjoyably fun prison breakout scenes I’ve ever seen.

Wes Anderson
Wes Anderson

It is this sense of fun and a constant movement that I think really carries the film, there is never a moment where something fun (in one way or another) isn’t happening. Whether it’s a simple, yet hugely effective ski and sledge chase or two people in a room having a conversation, something engaging is always going on.

While this really should be the case in all films, it rarely is and makes it really stand out as a highlight here – Anderson even succeeds in making Jude Law a tolerable presence, something I find rarely happens.

The Grand Budapest Hotel was genuinely enthralling and enchanting and, with its slightly bittersweet ending, made sure it never stepped over into becoming a pure confection but remained, like Mendl’s pastries seem to be, a true delight.

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