The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014): ★★★½
Directed by Wes Anderson
What a glorious, weird, artificial and joyful film this is. If you’ve seen other Wes Anderson films, the style and much of the trappings will seem intimately familiar. Like The Royal Tenenbaums, this is a film about an ensemble of oddball figures orbiting around one central, lovable oddball. Like all his films, there is very deliberate and nostalgic art direction, frame composition, and camerawork. As is usual for Anderson, he creates a giddily rich visual tapestry, delving with fetishistic verve into the tiniest minutiae of his settings.
There were three things that made this one stand out from his others, though:
The distancing of the story from the viewer is fascinating, and on a level that I haven’t seen since the original Call of Cthulhu short story by Lovecraft. This is a movie about a girl reading a book, a book that is about an author telling a story, a story about how when the author was younger he met a man who told him a story, a story about that man’s youth. That’s four layers of distance (five if you count you the viewer as a layer). In a wonderful trick of storytelling, the further in the past the movie gets the narrower its aspect ratio, so that the scenes farthest in the past (the bulk of the movie) are actually not widescreen at all, but standard 3:2 of televisions… and movies that were made before widescreen was the norm.
The second thing were the “special effects” that were used during the film. Of a purposefully dubious quality, they added sprinklings of incredible hilarity into the proceedings, particularly during a climactic chase when the characters jump onto sleds and head down a mountainside. Whenever there is a long shot, everything is very obviously poorly-made miniatures, and it almost looks like they’re being dragged down a fake mountain (at ridiculously high speeds) by strings. I laughed SO hard at those shots, every time. It was a rather audacious choice and I heartily approve!
Finally, Ralpf Fiennes (yes, Voldemort) is unbelievably good as the slightly effete, ever-proper, somewhat-smarmy main character, M. Gustave. There is great subtlety and nuance in the character, even when it appears that he is chewing up the scenery around him. This is a character that embodies the heart of almost every Anderson film: manners. Propriety. And even when he periodically breaks down and becomes a cussing maniac, it doesn’t seem like a break of character, but another sliver of what makes this bizarre man tick.
Bottom line: if you like Wes Anderson movies, this is another one (and a pretty great one at that). If you don’t, well… why are you bothering to read this?
Categories: Movie Reviews.