With the new year approaching, we celebrate our films of 2014. Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel is up.
It’s easy to lump together the films of Wes Anderson. He has carved out a corner of modern moviedom for his odd little brainchildren, each of which adhere to a precise recipe of idiosyncrasy. A Screen Roboteer earlier this year took issue with those that dismiss Anderson as ‘twee’. But I reckon that word actually accurately represents Anderson’s marginal misfires. When he fails to get the balance just right, which is more often than not, his films are so cute they’re false (though often still very good). Too much schmaltz and the film is cloying; too much quirk and it’s annoying.
When everything comes together – as it does in The Grand Budapest Hotel – Anderson’s films do something rare and marvellous
In recent years, Moonrise Kingdom was a bit sentimental, The Life Aquatic was excessively eccentric, and The Darjeeling Limited proved flat for its lack of Anderson exuberance. But when everything comes together – as it does in this year’s The Grand Budapest Hotel – Anderson’s films do something rare and marvellous. They create a world – a heightened reality in which deadpan humour and honest-to-god emotion work in congruence. The Grand Budapest Hotel is not only my favourite film of the year, it’s Wes Anderson’s best ever (or at least in close competition with The Royal Tenenbaums).
The fictional Republic of Zubrowka (like the posh Polish vodka) is a glorious Andersonian Austro-Hungary, full of zany zippy dialogue, vibrant colours and characters, and a delightfully Third Man-ish gypsy folk score. We arrive at Zubrowka’s Grand Budapest Hotel in 1968 by way of a British author (Jude Law) recalling in 1985 the derivation of his best novel. It was then and there that he shared an intimate dinner with the decaying establishment’s owner Zero (F Murray Abraham), who himself detailed his extraordinary tale of the 1930s.
Back then Zero was a lowly lobby boy to the legendary concierge Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). In the course of their adventures in and around the titular hotel – facing proto-Nazis, full-blown Nazis and Willem Dafoe – lessons are learned, relationships develop, and the world does an awful lot of awful changing. The main plot represents the last hurrah of old Europe, Gustave’s dogged attempts to preserve nobility in an increasing ignobile world.
Ralph Fiennes’s Gustave H is a transcendent character, enhanced by elder Zero’s nostalgic hero-worship
On one occasion, Gustave’s exceptional grace spares his immigrant companion from the grips of Edward Norton’s German death squad, “the first of which we’ve formally been introduced to”. Gustave is a transcendent character, perhaps enhanced by elder Zero’s nostalgic hero-worship. So of another time is he that he lays with skeletal old aristocrats – “more flavourful cheap cuts” as opposed to filet mignon. But even he cannot stop the tides of change, as Zubrowka first falls into the Second World War and then becomes a Soviet satellite state. Even the grand hotel cannot endure.
Zero says of his mentor: “I think his world had vanished long before he ever entered it – but, I will say, he certainly sustained the illusion with a marvelous grace.” And this illusion is integral to the other big idea which Anderson explores: storytelling. Gustave shares his peculiar wisdom with Zero, who passes it along to the unnamed author, who writes it up to great acclaim. The girl in the present day so deeply affected by the tale suggests that while The Grand Budapest may yet be converted into an Aldi, the ideas it birthed would live on.
These potent subjects, which appear close to Anderson’s heart and mind, make for potent cinema. Armed with writerly purpose, Anderson has written his most delicious script in years, rather like a cake from Mendls. His set direction – which this album gives you a look at – is sterling, the miniatures blending together the film’s cartoonery and realism. And then there’s the acting.
Everything comes together in this film. Wes Anderson has a purity of vision unlike any other director
Fiennes camps it up as Gustave without compromising his depth one iota. It’s a tour de force. He leads a spectacular ensemble – I haven’t even yet touched upon Saoirse Ronan’s birthmarked Agatha, Adrien Brody’s really evil Dmitri, or Bill Murray and his Society of Secret Keys. Everything comes together in this film. It is both the big picture, and just an entertaining two hours. It also served to remind me that Wes Anderson has a purity of vision unlike any other director. We may sometimes be given ‘twee’, but sometimes we are given this.
All images: Fox Searchlight