The Grand Budapest is the latest film by writer/director Wes Anderson and it follows the scrapes and adventures of Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), a concierge at the most elaborate hotel in Europe, all as told by his protégé Zero (Tony Revolori). When older, Mr Mufasa (F. Murray Abraham) – formerly known as Zero – tells the story of Gustave to a young author (Jude Law) who is, in turn, inspired by the events and writes a book which is read by a young girl after the author’s death, which is where the film opens and we are introduced to the world of it.
Confused yet? Well, that’s kind of the point. The film is byzantine in all its facets, from the extremely grand titular hotel (tell me it doesn’t look like a big pink cake), to the set design, to the clockwork narrative, to eccentric dialogue and action sequences and the mixture of real and animated scenes. Almost every aspect is in place to draw attention to itself as artifice and as a constructed piece. Furthermore, take the complicated narrative framing, what purpose does it serve apart from to confuse? It’s glaringly obvious artifice however, isn’t there to distract; instead it’s a rather brilliant form of framing to tell one of the most wacky stories I’ve ever seen in a long time.
Needless to say, it’s riotously funny and my girlfriend and I laughed pretty much all the way through (the snow chase scene had us, especially her, in stitches). In the hands of a less exuberant director it may have very easily felt overly plotty but Anderson keeps the pace flowing effortlessly, most characters are capable of retorting some quip at the speed of light and the flashy camera work serves to enhance it. One aspect that gives the film its spatial and temporal sense is the music. It is set in a fictional eastern European country on the brink of civil war during the 1980s, Alexandre Desplat’s (his work on Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life is stunning) exquisite is lively and upbeat most of the time and keeps the pace of the film moving along at a brisk pace.
The dialogue is particularly funny, there’s one section where Gustave and Zero are on a train and they are stopped by military forces and narrowly avoid a good beating up. Gustave attempts a soliloquy on the depths and depravity of humanity, then he cuts himself off as he gets bored – perhaps realising that it does not fit the tone of the film – and remarks “Oh fuck it…”
There is a whole host of cameos that at times it can feel like a museum of good and great actors. To list a few: Adrien Brody (who looks a lot like Ezra Pound it must be said, see picture), Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, and Bill Murray. Every time one of them pops up you will find yourself exclaiming, “It’s them!”
As I said, it has a clockwork narrative in that everything seems so tightly wound and perfectly judged (this is including the brilliant and routinely astounding cinematography) that it can seem like watching very brightly coloured dolls being manipulated in a Croesus-like dollhouse. Then again, I doubt that realism was Anderson primary concern, a girl has a birthmark in the shape of Brazil for God sake. As a result, the film’s vibrant colour palette and unrelenting pace can leave one feeling just a tad wary and exhausted, as entertaining as it is, I doubt it will linger in your head for long after you have seen it. But is this a great taint on the film? No of course not, it’s still bloody enjoyable.