“There are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity.” So says M. Gustave, as played by Ralph Fiennes in Wes Anderson’s latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Told as a story-within-a-story-within-a-story, this film looks into the golden age of its titular hotel, in the madcap events surrounding its concierge and his faithful lobby boy in training, as the two of them become tangled in a convoluted case of treachery, murder, and deception, all of which are so beyond description that I dare not spoil the surprises. As anyone who follows my blog knows, The Grand Budapest Hotel was my most anticipated release of the year. So, with it finally having come out on DVD, I turned my attention towards it. My final verdict…. I would be so bold as to call this Wes Anderson’s best film to date.
For one thing, it’s his most personal and passionate one to date, and one that features all of his usual charms and quirks in bulk. If you’re not a fan of the man’s style, this probably won’t change your mind, but the way they’re all used is actually quite interesting. Whenever Anderson makes a film, you always know he’s going to be making it with the fondest, most unbridled sense of nostalgia, all of which come through to the tiniest visual detail in this film. The Production Design by Adam Stockhausen is a jewel of stylized detail and tone establishment, from the cozy luxury of the hotel suites to the cramped, dim prison cells that the movie winds through. Also making a return is Anderson’s usual sense of out-there, macabre humor, which is plentiful, often hilarious, and very rarely an intrusion.
One could be forgiven for assuming it to be an exercise in style over substance, but Anderson and co-writer Hugo Guinness are actually clever in how they subvert them. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a very nostalgic film, and that provides one of the greatest thematic elements of the experience. As showcased by the glamorized romanticism of the sets, the film yields a deeply subdued sorrow, yearning for simpler times that have practically become the stuff of legend in the ever evolving ages, and even the humor showcases this, similar to the ways that someone might use humor as a defense mechanism to hide their grief. Also to be expected is the stellar use of actors, which is perhaps the biggest and most eclectic ensemble ever formed for one of Anderson’s films. The film features the likes of Jude Law, F. Murray Abraham, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Mathieu Almalric, Jeff Goldblum, the list just keeps going on. Of course, the main draw of it all is Ralph Fiennes, mostly remembered for his dramatic output, but showing off his excellent comedic chops in the most quirky, deadpan ways possible. I’m not kidding, John Cleese would be proud…
***** / *****