Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel

My stepfather said, "I saw the trailer for The Grand Budapest Hotel and it looked like Edward Norton was doing the exact same lines he was doing as the Scoutmaster in Moonrise Kingdom." I told him I didn't know how to tell him this but, not only that, TGBH also has Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, an elaborate open set that the camera dollies through, sideways, etc. etc. etc.

In other words, it's a Wes Anderson film.

The Flower, The Boy and I really liked Moonrise, so hopes were high for Budapest, and it did not disappoint. My stepfather was finally compelled to see it by James Lileks appearing on the radio and saying it was the best movie he'd ever seen.

Well.

The story is that of M. Gustave, the ultimate concierge, played by Ralph Fiennes, an aging man in an aging hotel, in a fictitious eastern-european country in a fictitious time between World War I and World War II, when a party that is not the Nazis but similar in tactics and aesthetics, who is willed a priceless painting by an aged dowager he used to service.

He has sex with all his friends, you see.

Hijinks ensue as Gustave and his apprentice Zero (Tony Revolori, in a breakout role) flee the officials and search for clues that will clear Gustave's name and land the perpetrators behind bars.

It is, of course, odd, but it transcends its own oddness (unlike some of Anderson's earlier efforts). Much like Moonrise Kingdom, the characters feel real, even when they're practically fairy tale archetypes. The fantasy setting (the unnamed country, the pseudo-Nazis, the exterior shots done with the tilt-shift lens) allows Anderson to tell his story in a familiar milieu without having to cheapen history.

Although many of the repertory characters are there, this is a much larger cast than we're used to for his films, and to his credit they all end up seeming like they were born to play these roles: Jeff Goldblum as the good-hearted lawyer, Willem Dafoe as the evil assassin, F. Murray Abraham as senior Zero, Jude Law as his interviewer, Tom Wilkinson as the older Jude Law (?), Harvey Keitel, Leya Seydoux are all looking at home here, regardless of the size of their roles. Saorsie Ronan (How I Live Now, which I reviewed but blogger seems to have eaten) is a delight here as Zero's love, Agatha.

Then, of course, we have Owen Wilson (Anderson's original screenplay collaborator), Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, and of course Ed Norton, none of whom really have a big role, but whose presence lends a charm of its own.

There's an odd double (triple?) book-ending here, with the movie starting by having a young girl place flowers on a statue dedicated to "the author", which then leads to a flashback to the '80s, where the author is narrating the book, which then flashes back to the interview the author had to with the aged Zero, and then most of the movie takes place in Zero's (Abraham) recounting of the tale to the young author.

That was the only part that felt quirky for quirky's sake, but I think it may reflect Anderson's journey to the material, which was inspired by the writings by Stefan Zwieg, who himself died in 1942.

It's funny: I'm so used to seeing the best of our directors become more self-indulgent with age and turn out worse movies, it's very refreshing to see someone like Anderson (whose movies could be argued started out rather self-indulgent) increasingly hone his craft to make better films over time.

I don't know about "best movie ever" but we liked it a lot.

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