Janus Film Review Presents: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

as reviewed by Tom.

Format Reviewed: DVD/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (2014).

The first time I watched The Grand Budapest Hotel, I was in the midst of recovering from food poisoning. The film's zany, technicolour oddness made happy bedfellows with my delirious wooziness. Writer and director Wes Anderson is certainly an original voice in cinema and his films have a wonderful quirkiness, yet I have often struggled to fully engage with his work. There have been occasions where it has seemed Anderson has such a tight grip on proceedings that he is more enamoured with his distinctive world than his audience. Modern classics such as Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums have left me scratching my head, mildly amused but ultimately bemused. So perhaps it was my addled state upon my original viewing that suggested The Grand Budapest Hotel was something of a masterpiece; a joyous celebration of the idiosyncratic imagination of Wes Anderson. I am pleased to report that it still is.

The film plays out as a wheels-within-wheels, Russian doll-style narrative, drawing us into the picture book-styled world of the eponymous Grand Budapest Hotel through the narration of The Author (Tom Wilkinson) and the proprietor of the hotel (F. Murray Abraham). Liberally perfumed, suavely vulgar concierge Monsieur Gustave (an impeccable Ralph Fiennes) trains his protégé lobby boy, Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori, in a breakthrough role) to “anticipate the client’s needs before the needs are needed.” Gustave’s reputation for providing blonde, wealthy older ladies with “exceptional service” results in his “regrettable and preposterous incarceration”, when he is framed for the murder of one such lady, Madame Celine Villenueve Desgoffe-und-Taxis (an almost unrecognisable Tilda Swinton). Madame D., as she is known, has bequeathed Gustave with a valuable painting, much to the fierce annoyance of her son, Dmitri (Adrien Brody, lapping it up as a profane pantomime villain). In a manner recently affectionately parodied by 2017’s Paddington 2, it is up to Gustave, an unlikely band of rogues, and a map which shows “great artistic promise”, to attempt to bust out of jail.

The film has dalliances with a few different genres, darting between murder mystery, cat-and-mouse farce and buddy film and, as usual, Anderson assembles a delightfully game and eclectic cast. F. Murray Abraham plays an older version of Zero, recounting his adventures with Gustave to a young writer (Jude Law, who seems to have cornered the market in playing younger incarnations of characters, in this case Tom Wilkinson’s Author). Jeff Goldblum portrays Deputy Kovacs, a family lawyer and executor of Madame D.’s will who begins to suspect something less than honest is going on. Mathieu Amalric is Serge X., the hotel chef who may be able to provide Gustave’s crucial alibi for the night of Madame D.’s death, but not if knucklehead assassin J.G. Jopling (Willem Dafoe) has anything to do with it. Saoirse Ronan is Agatha, a baker and Zero’s fiancée, who plays a key role in enabling Gustave’s prison break and also provides a more poignant aspect to the story. Ultimately, the film revolves around Ralph Fiennes’ performance, as we witness the comic energy of a man of self-confessed distinction holding it together in a series of escalating and ever more improbable adventures.

The Grand Budapest Hotel also looks sumptuous. The images coalesce on screen as if illustrations from a bizarre novel have come to life, with Anderson’s customary attention to meticulous detail. The film is an elaborate homage to the craft of film-making, with painted backdrops and attentively created models providing the texture and feel of a bygone era, alongside vivid costumes and witty, rapid-fire dialogue. The film effortlessly glides between the absurd and the poignant; farce and pathos side-by-side. For me, it stands as Anderson’s most satisfying work, and perhaps as the film that best showcases his inimitable, fantastical and whimsical style.

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