I absolutely adored Wes Anderson’s MOONRISE KINGDOM – a film that was enchanting, eccentric, visually as clear as breathing in the early morning light. The director successfully used actors against type making me realize the range of their abilities. I was held captive and surrendered my prosaic reality for almost 2 hours until the magic ended.
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL was about 70% as mesmerizing even though the dialogue was snappy, the actors racing back and forth – torsos rigid and legs moving like Keystone Kops right out of a Mack Sennett film were endearing, but “sight gags” too oft repeated can be tedious. Anderson walks a tightrope – between being overly cute, and conjuring incisive transformations that are entrancing. He teeters on both sides of that thin line – sometimes outrageously playful and facetious, and at other times predictably slapstick and repetitive.
Through flashbacks, we are introduced to Gustav H. (a wonderful stately, farcical Ralph Fiennes) who is the ideal concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel located in a fictional kingdom somewhere in Central Europe in the 1930’s. We are shown inklings of a tremulous and uneasy time period between the wars, and the cataclysmic changes that will soon overtake the continent. Glimmers of fascism are on the rise, but the movie treats the black-shirted “thugs” with short shrift – ridiculing them as if they were burlesque characters out of a Marx Brothers film – impotent and ridiculous.
Gustave H is a gentleman who lives by the rules of his profession and has a genuine affection for his job and his patrons. He is a man who believes in “service,” and has the personality and charismatic appeal to glide in out of seductions, preferably with the older and wealthier of his female clientele. Cynicism is made palatable by the undeniable joy and high spirits of his antics.
Basically this is a mystery tale – a whodunit involving the murder of one of the hotel’s customers; a missing will and the theft of a valuable painting. It is also essentially a film about a friendship – a mentorship of a young apprentice, aptly named Zero Mustapha (an enthusiastic and winning Tony Revolori) who is the most fully realized individual in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL,) a “lobby boy” taken under the Concierge’s wing becoming his ally and devoted friend. Their adventures combine whacky perilous undertakings overlaid with the innocence of innate goodness, often involving Wes Anderson’s ensemble cast – Harvey Keitel, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson with “newcomers” Jude law, F. Murray Abraham, William DaFoe, Jeff Goldbaum and the fragile Lea Seydoux thrown in the mix.
Visually THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL feels like a fairy tale. Once upon a time…in a far off land …describes what Anderson’s world evokes. Emotional resonance does not peek out very often, except for a few tender scenes between Zero and Gustav H. and even then there is a wall of self-conscious drollery that separates us from them. But I definitely think that this is a film one should see by a director who deserves our attention.