Visual enchantment, a little more sensible heart than your typical Wes Anderson film. The Grand Budapest Hotel still is populated with a few too many caricatures which are synonymous with Anderson’s work. But there’s at least a little more something human, if anxious and nutty, going on with the leads Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori (as the concierge and apprentice lobby boy). There is funny work by the rest of the cast, you cackle and snicker but as presences they are really just lampoons. The opening of the film is baffling and without clarity, but there is magic here. The first shots of a gondola transport and the opulently colorful hotel are – Wow. “This is the first really beautiful shot I’ve seen so far this year,” I said to myself. It’s the 1930’s pre-World War II, and there are old-world manners that are adhered to. The classicism of the period lends to the cleanliness and tidiness of these sets and costumes.
As usual, and gratefully, Anderson’s artful camera slides back and forth with ease and panache. We absorb the colors and patterns of the rugs and drapes, the elegant staircases, the intricate showrooms, the flamboyant retro costumes. There are little shots of funiculars, gondola carriages, tidy dessert boxes, spa baths, precious wall fixtures, stained-glass windows and the inside of a jacket that holds both a flask and a walther pistol – one shot after another, brims with invention and delight. I love the look of this hotel like I love the look of the corporate factory in the Coen Brothers’ “The Hudsucker Proxy” (1994) or the palace of “Curse of the Golden Flower” (2006, China). I want to vacation in this imaginary world.
There is a battle for the will after the 84-year old countess Madame D. (Tilda Swinton, in stretchy latex makeup) deceases. Her children, Adrien Brody and Willem Dafoe as snobs and scoundrels, want to hog up the majority of her wealth. They don’t even want her former lover Monsieur Gustave (Fiennes) to claim a painting Boy with Apple, which is hysterically met with beloved fondness. So Gustave is the disgraced hero, the children frame him in prison, and he must escape and then clear his name. The prison scenes are the only visually flat scenes in the picture, but the escape props are a hoot.
Yes, Zero Moustafa the Lobby Boy abets Gustave in his prison break. Throughout the film, there is camaraderie between them that is met with formal etiquette, but there are subtle nuances in affection for each other. I believed it when Gustave wanted the Lobby Boy to one day have everything that is his. Gustave is strict and uptight with his veneer of worldliness, and so these little gestures are quite poignant.
I want to say something about Fiennes. He has been the most disappointing actor I’ve ever followed in my life. Not because he has ever been bad, but because I’ve always wanted to see more of him in quality films. After his initial shot to stardom in “Schindler’s List” and “Quiz Show,” Fiennes through the years has been sorely underutilized. Sure there have been some other noteworthy Fiennes titles along the way, but few and far between. His appearance in an Anderson comedy of manners is a companionable fit for both actor and filmmaker, and it is a jovial, charming piece of work.
The Anderson All-Star team is here. Count these actors: F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Saoirse Ronan, sparsely used Jason Schwartzman, Tom Wilkinson and perennial favorite Bill Murray, and Edward Norton as an Inspector. Some are caricatures, but they get their moments. Some have richer subtext. All of them are game. Oh, and there’s so much to say that I haven’t touched on the love story between Ronan’s bakery girl and the Lobby Boy. I didn’t get bashful eyes by looking at the two of them. They are sweet together, but only in a minor way.
In a major way though, are these sets. The droll humor. The quick-punch comic violence. The infectious wordplay, and particularly the way Fiennes has reverie for his deceased 84-year old lover and the fondness for his apprentice. This is to my heart and mind, Anderson’s finest farce. And as a travelogue fantasy, it is sublime.
100 Minutes. Rated R.
COMEDY / FANTASY FILMS / WHIMSICAL / WEEKEND FAMILY MOVIE
Film Cousins: “The Hudsucker Proxy” (1994); “The Darjeeling Limited” (2007); “Hotel Chevalier” (2007); “Moonrise Kingdom” (2012).