March 17, 2014

Review: Wes Anderson Resurrects 'The Grand Budapest Hotel'

"A glimmer of civilization in the barbaric slaughterhouse we know as humanity."

The Grand Budapest Hotel is easily Wes Anderson's most confident and assured, darkly mature and meticulous film to date. It's bursting at the seams with his trademark style and filmmaking techniques, sublimely mixing comedy with dark reinventions of a bygone pre-war era full of nostalgia. Like his past works, Anderson revisits the glorious past to tell stories within stories on a narrative scale not quite paralleled or seen anywhere else.

Set in a fictional Wes Anderson version of 1930s Eastern Europe during the onset of WWII with stand-ins for Nazis (the ZZ for "Zig Zag Division") and a later burgeoning communist influence, it's a magical, fantastically whimsical interpretation of a crumbing world and its decline. Taking place in 1985, 1968, and primarily 1932, Anderson explores the absurdist nature of political suffering from fascism to communism throughout the twentieth century with a strange comic reverence.

Ralph Fiennes and newcomer Tony Revolori are sensationally vibrant as the eccentric concierge Monsieur Gustave H. and his lobby boy, Zero Moustafa. Gustave is perhaps Anderson's most compelling, interesting character to date with a performance so full of life and fun from Fiennes. He sets the tone for the entire ensemble cast including Jude Law, Jeff Goldblum, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Mathieu Amalric, Saoirse Ronan, and many others.

The film itself is sort of a defence of Anderson's fimmaking as well as a celebration of the medium. It's the culmination of his other works, bringing genre, deadpan comedy, and his overall aesthetic into historical fiction. There's an interesting framing device with multiple aspect ratios and different actors playing the same characters in different eras or narratives to tell the story of the once majestic hotel falling into disrepair over the years. The 1930s are framed in 1.37 (the Academy ratio) to highlight the regal luxury hotel's illuminating verticals and reference empty space to the side just as the wide aspect ratio enhances its emptiness in the '60s.

Anderson fully indulges in all his quirks and affectations, setting his characters in a universe not resembling any sort of identifiable reality of our own (unlike say, in The Royal Tenenbaums). Every interaction, detail, and set dressing seems so precise and bursting with theatricality. Anderson has found his groove after delving into animation with Fantastic Mr. Fox, bringing his precise aesthetic to advance character and humour lovingly. Assembled brick by brick, the film explores Anderson's conventions with Fiennes as his stand in, a man who's out of his time full of detail and precise artistry with enemies at every turn.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is pure fantasy of the highest kind. It's landscape and characters flourish every frame with a dripping, knowing sense of historical nostalgia. Anderson and Fiennes make a great pair, collaborating superbly. At its core, the film plays as a inventive, madcap caper with offbeat comedic overtones and dark musings complemented by a lush playfulness.

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