Thursday, April 10, 2014
The Grand Budapest Hotel
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (Wes Anderson, 2014)
War is encroaching on the Republic of Zubrowka, a fictional country on Europe’s farthest eastern boundary, but for the main characters in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL their concerns are being dutiful in their jobs and then saving their own necks as they get entangled in a murder mystery. It is in 1932 at the luxurious mountaintop accommodations where lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) comes to fill an existence as empty as his name. Although lacking in experience, education, and family, concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) takes a shine to the conscientious lad and keeps him on as his protégé. M. Gustave teaches him how to attend to the guests, particularly the needy, old, wealthy, blonde women, and to appreciate the finer things.
M. Gustave’s years of fastidious attention to eightysomething Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) is rewarded when, upon her death, he learns that she has bequeathed a priceless painting to him. Rather than stick around for the rest of her horrid family to contest the will, M. Gustave and Zero depart her mansion in the neighboring state of Lutz with the masterpiece in hand. An accusation of homicide is directed at M. Gustave, and shortly thereafter authorities haul him off to prison. Zero carries on at The Grand Budapest Hotel in his stead while providing assistance from the outside for his escape and their subsequent adventure to clear M. Gustave’s name.
Through ingenious visual design writer-director Wes Anderson shows how everyday life is what happens while the greater course of history develops around us. Anderson uses a lot of shot-reverse shot construction and first-person perspective to maintain a narrower frame on the primary action while bigger events take place outside the protagonists’ view. The 1932 section, which comprises the greatest portion of the film’s running time, is photographed in Academy ratio, a creative choice that mirrors cinema of its day and suggests an inability of M. Gustave and Zero to see beyond their enclosed domain. (The 2.35:1 frame for the scenes in 1968 and 1.85:1 aspect ratio in 1985 and present day not only help to orient the action in time but allow for wider consideration of what happened in the past.) Insidious developments are afoot in the nation, yet the protagonists are practically incapable of seeing them, as when M. Gustave and Zero’s attention is drawn to news of Madame D.’s death in the newspaper than the large-type, above-the-fold headline speculating about war.
For Zero, who recounts his youthful tale to a young writer (Jude Law), the past exists in the brightness and pastels of nostalgic memory and is to be endlessly explored. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL was not shot and is not projected in 3D, but the camera scans and probes the frame in every direction, lending surprising dimensionality to the flat surface. The effect is akin to examining microfiche. If one scrutinizes every corner, perhaps what went unobserved and was thought unremarkable at the time will be revealed.
Alexandre Desplat’s score is almost constant as it supports the story in silent cinema fashion. Alternating between jaunty folk music and the rich, booming sounds of an organ, the music pushes the brisk action onward at a breakneck pace. The film editing has a musical quality to it as it bounces between reactions, and Anderson’s visual jokes come quickly too, whether it’s an absurd coat check receipt, the signs switching on a museum’s closing time, or the brief glimpse of a thug holding his shoes to explain how he snuck up on his target. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is packed with details, and Anderson strives to make some of these flourishes as invisible as M. Gustave and Zero attempt to be in their servitude.
Although THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL possesses an elegant Continental demeanor and a confection’s appearance, steely resolve and a tender heart are tucked inside. Zero fondly recalls the days he spent at the hotel, but those memories are also laced with pain. Long after the main action in the past The Grand Budapest Hotel is described as “an enchanting old ruin”. Its former glory may no longer be visible to the naked eye, but the charms the hotel holds for its admirers cannot be erased by remodeling or the march of time.