The Grand Budapest Hotel – 2014
This was a wonderfully refreshing alternative to all the serious dramas that keep getting nominated for the Best Picture award. It was a true comedy. It had a fast-paced, over-the-top plot, great larger than life characters, Hollywood A-list actors, a lot of laugh-out-loud humor, slapstick, and great music. And it was completely worthy of its nomination for the top prize. In fact, compared to the movie that won, Birdman, I might have voted for this little gem instead. It was witty, zany, clever, exciting, and utterly charming.
The movie has an interesting structure. Based on little snippets at the beginning and end of the movie, it was a story within a story, within a story, within a story. On the first level, an unnamed girl, played by Jella Niemann, is visiting the grave of a historic author. She reads his memoir, and we shift back in time to when the author, played by Tom Wilkinson, is writing the book. The We shift back in time a second time to when he is a young man, played by Jude Law, who is staying at the Grand Budapest Hotel, a dilapidated establishment that was obviously incredibly luxurious in its past. While there he meets an old man who is said to be the owner of the hotel, played by F. Murray Abraham. The mysterious man introduces himself as Zero Moustafa, and over dinner, he tells the young author the story of how he came to be the owner of the old hotel. We shift back in time again, and we are introduced to Zero as a young man, played by Tony Revolori.
It is here where the real story begins. It is told as a narrative flashback, complete with an occasional voice-over by the old Zero. But the main protagonist of the fantastical events is often his mentor, his employer, and his friend, the flamboyant M. Gustave, played by Ralph Fiennes. He is a man who is a remnant of a forgotten age. He is clearly bisexual, having relations with wealthy older women, yet showing stereotypically unmistakable signs of homosexuality.
He was really a fascinating character. He is the concierge of the hotel who runs the tightest of ships. The young Zero is hired as a lobby boy, but when one of Gustave’s wealthiest lovers, Madame Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe und Taxis, or Madame D, played by Tilda Swinton, dies under mysterious circumstances, the two run to be present at the reading of her will.
Every one of her relations, distant or otherwise, descend like vultures in hopes of getting there hands on her vast fortune. The executor of her will, Deputy Vilmos Kovacs, played by Jeff Goldblum, announces that she left her most priceless possession, a painting called Boy with Apple, is to be left to M. Gustave. When the family objects, Gustave and Zero steal the painting and make a run for it. They hide it in the Grand Budapest Hotel and the zaniness begins.
From there, a sizeable line of easily recognizable Hollywood stars parades across the screen, playing nearly every significant role. Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Edward Norton, Mathieu Amalric, Harvey Keitel, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, and Bob Balaban, all have wonderful supporting roles, in addition to all the big stars I have already mentioned like Fienes, Wilkinson, Law, Swinton, Goldblum, and Abraham. The only other member of the main cast who should by no means be forgotten is the character of Agatha, played by Saoirse Ronan. She is the young Zero’s fiancée. Agatha is merely a poor baker’s assistant, but she proves herself to be a major influence on Zero, and thus the workings of the entire plot.
I especially liked the character played by Willem Dafoe. He was J. G. Jopling, a hit man working for Madame D’s murderous son, Dimitri, played by Brody. The movie was certainly a dark comedy, and in Jopling’s efforts to find and kill certain people, he was just as funny as everyone else. The part where he threw Deputy Kovacs’ cat out a window had me cracking up.
Another major aspect of the film that really contributed to the movie’s overall charm was the aesthetic, the look of the film. The costumes, the sets, the props, the music, the language, all pointed to a more glamourous time in the past. The years between the two world wars was a time of carefree luxury for the rich. There was just as much corruption and debauchery as there is today, but it all had a light-hearted veneer of class covering it. Director Wes Anderson captured the era perfectly, and gave us a wonderfully twisted story that took us from the hotel to Madame D’s opulent mansion, from the inside of a 1920’s style maximum security prison, to a mountain top in the Swiss Alps, and I loved it all.
In the end, we get a little epilogue, narrated by Abraham, who is still telling his story to the young Author, in which we learn that M. Gustave, after having uncovered a final amendment to the dead woman’s will, learned that he had not only inherited the painting, but her entire vast fortune, including the Hotel itself. And when he died, he left it all to Zero, who told his story to the author, who wrote it into his memoirs , which the young girl was reading at his memorial. Perfectly written, and perfectly executed. This was a really well-made film. Great job everyone!