Four years ago, I went to see The Grand Budapest Hotel on a whim (I didn’t pay much attention to entertainment news back then), but I did not regret my decision one bit. In fact, it was quite the opposite—I was charmed by Wes Anderson’s 2014 period drama/comedy within minutes. Now, I carry a piece of it with me every day—I have had the great fortune to come upon the perfect phone wallpapers of the film (links here, and here), and thanks to them, even the simple act of taking my phone out to check the time can bring me joy. The Grand Budapest Hotel is magical!
I adore The Grand Budapest Hotel. It is the most Wes Anderson movie the quirky American auteur has ever done. Most, not in the sense of having the greatest amount of Anderson’s trademark aesthetics crammed in, but rather, in the sense of these aesthetics realizing their full potential. Yes, being an Anderson film means you can already expect this movie to be about a group of lovable misfits going on a wacky adventure, but at the same time, it is unlike anything you have seen before. The Grand Budapest Hotel is the height of the Anderson magic—it is simply impossible for even those who had grown accustomed to Anderson’s style to ward against its charm.
The settings of The Grand Budapest Hotel wears its whimsical atmosphere with tremendous ease. After all, what is better at housing a fairy tale than an old man’s reminiscence of a bygone golden age? Anderson’s usual graceful eccentricity feels right at home in the 1930s European high society. Set in the fictional nation of Zubrowka, the story follows the titular hotel’s legendary concierge Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), and his penniless but loyal lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori and F. Murray Abraham as the young and old Zero respectively). Gustave, who was as much an attraction as the lavishly furnished hotel he worked in, was framed a murderer of Madame D., over the priceless renaissance painting his mistress bequeathed him. The duo must clear Gustave’s name before either the law enforcement or Madame D.’s devious son catches up.
The presentation of this film is immaculate. The narrative takes up the form of a nestle doll set that starts and ends in a similar manner (Anderson’s obsession with symmetry raised to a whole new level); each setting neatly wraps around the central adventure and holds it in great affection, reverence, and melancholy. The story is punctuated by the occasional alternating between narrative layers. The Grand Budapest Hotel knows precisely when to pause, sidestep, and whisk forward—the pacing is never offbeat. As the story weaves back and forth across time, the aspect ratio shifts to reflect the change. Each aspect ratio presents a new composition opportunity. The Grand Budapest Hotel is rife with stunning shots that one can frame and hang on the wall.
What surprised me the most was perhaps how funny The Grand Budapest Hotel is. Comedy is present in all of Anderson’s movies; however, none of them can measure up to this film. The humor is dry, sometimes physical, and often times unexpected. I laughed aloud many times, and much of this movie’s hilarity can be attributed to Fiennes’s impeccable comedic timing and delivery, so much so that I could not imagine the lines being delivered in any other way. The film had briefly hinted at the gentlemanly, poetry-reciting concierge’s humble origin, and his crass outbursts never fail to put a smile on my face. The deadpan of Revolori and Fiennes’s melodramatic manner is a match made in comedic heaven.
The flawless story pacing and structure, picturesque cinematography, and exquisite production design each reinforce the impression of The Grand Budapest Hotel being a labor of utmost care. It is not to say Anderson doesn’t pour his heart into every film he had ever directed, but his cute stop-motion features (Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs) failed to instill the same warm and fuzzy sensation in me. The Grand Budapest Hotel is not exactly a feel-good movie. At times it is wistful and melancholic, for the (illusion of a) civilized world “sustained with a marvelous grace” by Gustave came to an end eventually—succumbed to war and diseases. The key essence that sets The Grand Budapest Hotel apart lies in the protagonists. Flawed as the Zero and Gustave (well, it’s mostly Gustave) are, when faced with great hardship, they never despair or turn to cynicism. They remained steadfast, and they persevered with the help of friends. Though their endearing relationships were brief, their tales lived on.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is a showcase of masterful filmmaking—it is perfectly framed, perfectly choreographed, and perfectly edited. It is a well-balanced film that loses not an ounce of human warmth in its pursuit for precision. With all my heart, I hope it moves you as much it moved me.