Berlinale 2014: 'Grand Budapest Hotel' is a Deeply Thoughtful Caper
by Alex Billington
February 6, 2014
There's really nothing like a Wes Anderson film. Nothing can compare, from the way he shoots and lights his scenes, to the decadent sets and locations he builds/chooses, to the actors he casts and performances they give. His latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, which just premiered at the 2014 Berlinale Film Festival, is strangely not at all what one might be expecting from the trailer, but is nonetheless another good Wes Anderson movie. It has all of his trademarks, but it also has a distinct depth to its complex story, with many layers, that makes it more thoughtful than his most recent work. But above all, it's mostly a fun caper.
Within minutes of starting, The Grand Budapest Hotel storyline jumps back in time multiple times, moving from 1985 to the 1960s to 1933, where it settles on a story involving the concierge M. Gustave, played by Ralph Fiennes, and his lobby boy Zero, played by newcomer Tony Revolori. The reason it jumps back is to explain, almost as if looking back at the obituary of the hotel and its life, one of the prominent stories in the hotel's history intimately involving its staff. From there we follow a complex plot with a diverse cast of characters, from Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) and her nuts family, to the lawyer Kovacs (Jeff Goldblum), to Inspector Henckels (Edward Norton), to the lovely baker Agatha (Saoirse Ronan), and many others.
Peeling back the layers of this film is tough to do on a first viewing. There's so much to follow, so much to get caught up in, and so much to enjoy following all of these people on a rather dark caper, that Anderson's bigger ideas might just fly by. It took me a second viewing to start to understand that this is a very personal, very intimate film from Wes Anderson, perhaps even going so far as to put some of himself into Fiennes' character. It's perhaps a grand metaphor for the fimmaking process, or at least a look at how time can affect and change the success and failure of one specific hotel. It really is a look back at the moments that make a person, or a building, and what defines it's identity and how little disruptions can cause such big problems.
Despite being tough to peel back the layers, The Grand Budapest Hotel is still an enjoyable experience for many reasons. Anderson plays around with style in such a unique way, telling most of the story in 4:3 format, and integrating stop-motion animation into numerous scenes rather seamlessly. Some of the most amusing moments in the middle seem inspired directly by the absurd fun of Fantastic Mr. Fox. While other moments harken back to Anderson's deeper, more complex characters from his other films like The Royal Tenenbaums or The Life Aquatic. It's not as instantly satisfying as Moonrise Kingdom, but it is endearing once you delver deeper into its depths and start to analyze the metaphors that Anderson carefully weaved in.
Normally when watching a film with a cast this robust it's sometimes jarring to see certain actors show up. But in this film, it's a joy to see them show up, and a delight to watch them play around in this world. Even if it's just for a five minute appearance, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Jude Law, Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel and F. Murray Abraham all fit right in and add just the right amount of levity to the complex story. But above all it's the team up of Tony Revolori and Ralph Fiennes, as Zero and Gustave, that really shine. This may just be one of my all-time favorite performances from Ralph Fiennes, he's absolutely perfect. And Revolori is unforgettable, which is a stellar achievement for his very first role.
The more I think about The Grand Budapest Hotel, the more it grows on me, and the more I seem to like it. There's so much depth to it, so much to think about and discuss after, that I can't help but admire it more than anything. I can admit it won't knock any of my other favorite Wes Anderson films (Rushmore, The Life Aquatic) off the top, but it is one of his better ones and will improve the more it's analyzed. It's also the kind of film that is unlike anything you will experience at the cinema this year, and has made me love the style and psyche of Wes Anderson even more. Now if only I could actually book a room at the hotel for a vacation.
Alex's Berlinale 2014 Rating: 8 out of 10
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