Review: Inspired by Zweig, But Totally Wes Anderson The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) is a Charming, Adventurous and Zestful Comedy

The Grand Budapest Hotel - 64th Berlin Film Festival
Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) is a legendary and dashing concierge at the famous Grand Budapest Hotel in Nebelsbad, Zubrowka. The year is 1932 and the war is about to begin. One of Gustave’s wealthy, but elderly lovers, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) has just died. The police think it was murder. The murderers try to frame Gustave and have him arrested. Luckily his loyal lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori) helps him get out of prison. Once out Madame D’s evil son Dimitri (Adrien Brody) and his henchman Jopling (Willem Dafoe) are after them, because they know the truth. 

Inspired by Austrian novelist and playwright Stefan Zweig, The Grand Budapest Hotel is Wes Anderson‘s eight feature film. The story is set in a fictional country that bears a lot of resemblance to Poland. The hotel itself is located in a border town near Germany. Anderson actually shot the film in Germany and it is clear that he was inspired a lot by the European aesthetic. All of Anderson’s films have a French New Wave feel, and clearly Zero is a reference to Jean Vigo’s film. Other nice little name references like for example to German actors Klaus and Nastassja Kinski are scattered throughout the movie.

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It’s nice little touches like this that make Anderson’s films so enjoyable to me. Some of the references still remain obscure to an uncultivated philistine such as myself, but the fact that they’re there and that I might discover them one day makes me happy. Also very happy and upbeat is Alexandre Desplat’s majestic score. His riveting musical compositions effectively create the whimsical tone and feel of the film. Slowly but surely Desplat is becoming one of my favorite composers. In this picture in particular it is impressive how varied the orchestration and moods are. It’s an absolutely fantastic achievement I can’t wait to own.

Speaking of excellent technical achievements Wes Anderson’s film once again shines for its splendid production design (Adam Stockhausen) and set decoration (Anna Pinnock). Equally impressive are the costumes by Academy Award winner and long time collaborator Milena Canonero and the makeup which manages to transform the beautiful Tilda Swinton into a decrepit, but credible old lady. Returning to shoot the film is Anderson’s cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman who shot the picture in the Academy ratio (1.375:1). As we’ve come the expect the movie looks absolutely gorgeous and immaculate.

Film Review The Grand Budapest Hotel

Aside from all the eye candy and real candy being served in the film, there were also some noteworthy performances by some noteworthy actors. Ralph Fiennes is impeccable in the leading role, portraying a slightly vain, but irresistibly charming concierge. Newcomer Tony Revolori does a fine job of not only blending in with Anderson’s stock actors, but distinguishing himself with a strong and nuanced supporting performance. The rest of the film is peppered with an incessant number of celebrity cameos, which can’t be covered here, but of those minor roles Willem Dafoe most definitely steals the show as Adrien Brody‘s cold and brutal right hand man.

In fact it was surprising to see a couple less than savory scenes of violence in a Wes Anderson film. The audience jumped a couple of time at my screening and I was certainly shocked by one scene in particular which involves a severed head. Anderson explained that he horrific events of the real war that serves as the context for the story are why he felt the story needed those scenes. Besides those few and isolated scenes the film is generally vibrant, exuberant and energetic. There’s a lot of action and plot for a Wes Anderson film. A lot happens, but luckily the story is never confusing or hard to follow.

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In fact if you were worried about the complex plot, which isn’t typical for Anderson, it is all relatively easy to understand. The film does however move at breakneck speed, certainly thanks to Barney Pilling‘s lean editing. Everything goes really fast. Sets change. Actors change. Costumes change. Color palette changes. This last one is especially interesting, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many different color schemes being used in a Wes Anderson film. He really outdid himself with this film. The dialogue is quick and funny, just like his other films, except I think it’s even better than usual here, maybe because Ralph’s character is so refined, sophisticated and articulate.

To forward all the plot a lot of voice-over is used. I am not a fan of voice-over in general and in this film there’s even a narrator, which makes sense because Anderson wanted to tell the story like it was a book. However it does feel a bit too much in some points and after continuous talking with seemingly no breathing pauses for several minutes my head was about to explode. Luckily, like I said, the writing is top-notch and as the film progresses and the story has been set up and the characters are finally allowed to talk it does get a little better. It’s interesting how a lot of the film’s humor doesn’t necessarily come from the dialogue, but the circumstance or the way Anderson shoots a scene.

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There are also Anderson’s recurring and favorite themes of family (or search for a surrogate family), longing for lost love, the past and a general sense of nostalgia for simpler times. There are a lot of twists and turns throughout, but I was a bit let down by the ending. The whole film is lighthearted, fun and quirky, but then right before the end it takes an unexpectedly serious tone and ends on a rather sad note. I don’t mind melancholy endings, but it seems to come out of nowhere and taking the unsuspecting viewer by surprise, but not in a good way.

Maybe I will feel differently about it on re-watches, but for now I was just a little bit bummed by how the story resolves in a matter of seconds. I don’t want to end on a sour note however, because I did enjoy the film a great deal and would say that is one of Wes Anderson’s best.

8.5 out of 10

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13 comments

  1. thomasjford

    YES! You’ve seen it! I can’t wait to see it, what with the new arrival though I don’t know if I will get a chance. Where does it rate against his other films would you say?

    • davideperretta

      It’s such a great movie, you’re going to love it! 🙂
      My favorites are still The Royal Tenenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited, but I would say this one is up there! It’s so much fun and it has a lot of action, like The Life Acquatic, but the luxurious/candy aesthetic is just wow and it has so much energy. It’s incredible. Hope I’m not hyping it too much 🙂

  2. Andy

    I love Rushmore but I haven’t been able to warm to anything else he’s done since. From Tenenbaums onwards that twee/quirky aesthetic just overwhelms the characters for me. I always wish he’d step outside his comfort zone a bit, and from what you say it sounds like he might have done that a bit with this one. Maybe I’ll give it a go.

    • davideperretta

      I know what you mean. I’d say this is a bit outside of his comfort zone. With Moonrise Kingdom he was overdoing his typical dialogue/humor, almost to the point of becoming a caricature of himself, but this one is a bit more grounded in that sense. The dialogues make sense and the film is genuinely funny.

  3. Alina (literaryvittles)

    I really love some of Wes Anderson’s older movies like The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore, but I just didn’t feel like Moonrise Kingdom was necessary, and I kind of feel the same way about this one. I like Ralph Fiennes but I also get annoyed by him… I’m also not thrilled by the fact that the lobby boy is named Zero. that just seems… sad. but maybe it’s better than I think? It’s gotten really good reviews, from what I’ve seen.

    • davideperretta

      I see where you’re coming from, but let me tell you this film is great. Ralph performance is absolutely amazing. In the context of the film it’s actually funny and appropriate that the lobby boy’s name is Zero. I think this is one of Wes’ most exciting films and he steps outside of his comfort zone a little bit, so I would give it a chance!

  4. Anna (Film Grimoire)

    Can’t wait to see this. Sounds like he’s dialled down the quirkiness a little bit after the uber-twee Moonrise Kingdom (even though I did like MK, it was just a bit too sweet). I’m really interested to see how he handles the violence and war stuff. Great review Davide!

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