I was having a conversation with some friends early this week about the films of Wes Anderson and one of them was talking about how Rushmore is still his favorite one. He also had a very interesting theory about the works of Anderson as a whole. To paraphrase, he said that part of the reason he liked Rushmore so much was that it was much more grounded in reality than any of the films that followed. All of the post-Rushmore films feel like plays that Max Fisher could have written. This idea stuck with my, especially as his latest opus, The Grand Budapest Hotel, began to unfold on the silver screen.
The film opens with a woman in present day entering a cemetery to sit by an author’s grave and read his book. This takes us back to the 1980s where the author (Tom Wilkinson) begins to read aloud said book. This takes us back to the 1960s where the author, (as portrayed by Jude Law) sits down with the owner of the hotel, Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) who begins to tell the author of how he became the owner of The Grand Budapest Hotel. This takes us all the way back to 1932 where Zero (now Tony Revelori) is the new lobby boy and finds himself under the tutelage of the hotel’s concierge, M. Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes). Follow so far?
This may seem like a little bit of a confusing introduction, but it flows quite smoothly and it does a very good job of setting the stage for this tale. Also, each time period is shot in a different aspect ratio; switching from 1.33 to 1.85 to 2.35:1. This sets each time period apart in a unique way that I’ve never seen before and it works.
Zero is learning all there is to learn about being lobby boy from Gustave and falling in love with a pastry girl named Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) at the same time. Things take a turn for the pair when an elderly lover of Gustave’s, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), dies. At the funeral everyone is shocked to find out she has left a priceless painting, “Boy With Apple”, to Gustave, especially her son, Dmitri (Adrien Brody), and his creepy bodyguard, Jopling (Willem Dafoe). They end up framing Gustave for the murder of Madame D. and this sends Zero and Gustave on a life-altering adventure.
In many ways this is a classic Wes Anderson film: from his stylized dialog and cinematography to his father/son relationship stories to his cornucopia of repeat actors. Seriously, even if they’re only in it for a minute, it seems like just about everyone who has previous been in an Anderson film shows up here and it doesn’t feel like he’s just stuck them in there to give them a part. Every character serves a purpose, even if it’s a small one.
He also incorporates the skills he learned making Fantastic Mr. Fox to give this already fantastic story an even more whimsical look and feel. From the elaborate models of the many gorgeous buildings featured in the film, to the outdoor world that is presented during the big action scenes, he makes this film feel very dream like, to good effect.
Architecturally Anderson cranked it up to 11 with this film; big elaborate sets have played a key role in his films since the Tenenbaum’s mansion. In Hotel there are several intricately and gorgeously designed buildings inside and out, whether a wide shot of the outside of the buildings or the beautifully designed insides where the characters are running around having their adventure not even noticing the dreamlike world they are living in. Seriously, there are at least several dozen moments in this film that I will be pausing when the Blu-ray comes out so I can study in depth all the amazing details that Anderson put in every nook and cranny of every room and hallway in this film.
This is also a very different kind of Anderson film. First off, this is a much more violent film than we’re used to. Without ruining any moments in the film there a couple fairly shockingly violent moments. In the grand scheme of cinema they aren’t that violent. They’re tame compared to films like Django Unchained or Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but because this is a Wes Anderson film they are very unexpected and are very stand out scenes.
The acting across the board is fantastic. Fiennes has never quite played a character like Gustave and he owns it. He’s usually known for his dark characters (he played Lord Voldemort for crying out loud!) and here he is allowed to let loose and fully embrace this comedic role that is also very deep and dynamic. There is a lot going on with this character even more so than the film reveals, but the viewer can see it in Fiennes performance and that brings this character to life in a very enjoyable and meaningful way.
While Fiennes has delivered a potentially career-altering performance it is really Tony Revolori as young Zero that carries this film. A young unknown actor, not so unlike Jason Schwartzman in Rushmore, Revolori’s Zero actually reminded me a lot of Max Fisher; maybe that’s just the way Anderson writes kids. As this is such an important role in the film, even with everything else working as well as it does, if the actor playing Zero hadn’t been up to the challenge, this whole film would have fallen apart, but Revolori is great and the thus film is as well.
Going back to my friend’s theory: maybe more than any other Anderson film prior, this film feels like it could have been a play by Max Fisher. It’s such a whimsical, fantastic adventure, mixed with the Mr. Fox style sets, it does almost feel like the kind of story a young aspiring teenager writer might construct. However, with such deep emotional characters to keep the whimsy grounded in reality it reminds you that this is tale told by a master storyteller at the top of his game.
As I write this it’s only been a couple hours since I saw the film and I already can’t wait to see it again, and isn’t that just about the best praise you can give a film?
If I have any complaints about this film, it is that Bill Murray isn’t in it nearly as much as he should be, but that can be said for any movie.
Director: Wes Anderson Writer: Wes Anderson and Hugh Guinness. Based on the works of Stefan Zweig Notable Cast: Tony Revolori, Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton
Mike Noyes received his Masters Degree in Film from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. A few of his short films can be viewed here: http://www.youtube.com/user/mikebnoyes. He reads tons of comics, watches even more movies and spends the rest of his free time writing.
He also co-wrote and directed the web series Confessions of a Superhero. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCXeQnxi4V7h01va0V50R1IQ