The idiosyncratic Wes Anderson conjures up his latest magical microcosm in this sumptuously designed feast for the senses.
One could compare Anderson’s career to that of a sculptor meticulously chiseling away at a piece of rock and removing all of the rough edges until what’s left is a thing of beauty.
His 1996 debut Bottle Rocket was an uneven work with enough flashes of Anderson’s unique visual style to mark him out as one to watch. His following two films, the resplendent Rushmore (1998) and superior The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) marked the end of a highly impressive first phase.
Phase two was more difficult, with The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004) and The Darjeeling Limited (2006) failing to strike the same chord. However, since 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, the balance of whimsy, eccentricity and maturity he failed to achieve in his previous two films was finally stuck, with this third phase in Anderson’s oeuvre also producing the lovely Moonrise Kingdom (2012) and now this charming confection (actually his second ‘hotel’ picture following the 2007 short Hotel Chevalier).
The film begins with an unnamed author (Tom Wilkinson) recollecting the time he spent as a younger man (played by Jude Law) at the Grand Budapest Hotel, where he encountered its reclusive owner Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham). Over dinner, Zero tells the extraordinary story of how, as a young man in the 1930s, he came to inherit one of Europe’s most lavish hotels from M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), who at the time was its suave and sophisticated concierge. They strike up a warm friendship after Gustave is framed for the murder of his octogenarian lover Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) and must prove not only his innocence but also uncover the real culprits.
Anderson’s love of early cinema, present in Bottle Rocket with its nod to Edwin S Porter’s landmark 1903 picture The Great Train Robbery, can be found here in the wonderful old school effects shots that bring to mind pioneering genius Georges Méliès. Likewise, the film’s deadpan physical comedy inevitably brings to mind such early masters of the form as Chaplin and Keaton.
His trademark mise en scène is also taken to the nth degree in The Grand Budapest Hotel, with its beautifully crafted and crisp tracking shots, zooms and back and forth camera shots so meticulously constructed as to make Stanley Kubrick proud.
In spite of being a marvel of precise technical mastery, the film is rich with memorable characters, each brought vividly to life by a splendid cast. Fiennes, in his first collaboration with Anderson, is a marvel and gives a beautifully measured turn that’s equal parts farcical, steely eyed and kind. He’s matched by Tony Revolori, whose portrayal of the loyal and determined young Zero sits perfectly next to his partner-in-crime Gustave.
The supporting cast, many giving extended cameos, all stand out due to the care and attention given to each of their characters. Willem Dafoe’s henchman J.G. Jopling looks like a cross between Nosferatu and Frankenstein’s monster, while Jeff Goldblum gives a typically terrific turn as the unfortunate Deputy Kovacs and Saoirse Ronan is sweet as Zero’s love interest Agatha. Let’s not forget Bill Murray, of course, who makes a quick impression as fellow hotel concierge M. Ivan.
These warm performances are matched by Anderson’s dialogue that, while maintaining the zippiness of his previous films, is also imbued with a generosity and affection that radiates when uttered by such a gifted cast.
When Wes Anderson is good he’s very, very good and with The Grand Budapest Hotel he’s at the top of his game. It’s an absolute delight.