The Grand Budapest Hotel: More real than real 

*****
click to enlarge grand_budapest_hotel_c371.jpg

If you're at all intrigued by The Grand Budapest Hotel, please don't wait until it comes out on video to see it. While the stories and the performances should work just as well in any format, the film offers visual treats I believe will be best appreciated on the big screen. Besides, a creation this engaging, funny, melancholic and agreeably odd deserves to be seen now.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is the eighth feature film by writer-director Wes Anderson, who also made Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom. Anderson has a unique approach to film-making, most immediately noticeable in the production design and cinematography.

Each image is carefully framed, with characters or prominent objects placed smack in the center of the scene. I've compared his imagery to pop-up books, dioramas, dollhouses, puppet shows and ornate pastries. The presentation style is formal with occasional (and often surprising) bursts of movement and/or rude behavior. The Grand Budapest Hotel features the work of cinematographer Robert Yeoman and production designer Adam Stockhausen. Good on them, as well as Alexandre Desplat, who provides the fine score.

Within the precise trappings, Anderson lets his imagination run wild. Inspired by the work of Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig, The Grand Budapest Hotel features stories within stories without becoming confusing. Each story gets its own look and a screen shape (aspect ratio) appropriate to its time period. Nifty.

The central tale takes place in the Republic of Zubrowka in 1932, at the resort-spa referred to in the title. The golden age between the world wars is nearing its end. Currently, the hotel thrives in large part due to the efforts of concierge M. Gustave, played wonderfully by Ralph Fiennes. Gustave speaks formally and melodically, except for those moments when he abruptly growls or curses. His presentation style is florid, he calls most men "darling." Gustave also beds many of the older female guests.

Gustave is ably assisted by a young lobby boy named Zero Moustafa, played with deadpan enthusiasm by Tony Revolori. Gustave and Zero make a delightful screen team.

All hell breaks loose when one of Gustave's lady friends, the ancient Madame D. (an unrecognizable Tilda Swinton) dies, setting off an ugly competition for her property and a murder investigation. Gustave is drawn into the madness — she left him a valuable painting that is emotionally significant — and he must deal with her threatening son (Adrien Brody), his ultra-violent enforcer (Willem Dafoe), a well-spoken military policeman (Edward Norton), an escape-bound convict (Harvey Keitel) and the leader of the Society of the Crossed Keys (Bill Murray, making the most of his brief time onscreen).

The cast also includes F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Tom Wilkinson and Owen Wilson. Whew.

The Grand Budapest Hotel does all of the good things you'd expect from a Wes Anderson film, but there's something more going on. Aided immeasurably by Ralph Fiennes exceptional performance, the fanciful trappings and shifting spotlights somehow seem more genuine than the real world. Anderson doesn't just take viewers through the looking glass, he shows us the depth within it.

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What others are saying (18)

Gambit 2014: The Year in Film Ken Korman's Top 10 list of personal favorites from the films that debuted in New Orleans during 2014. by Ken Korman 12/22/2014
Charleston City Paper The Grand Budapest Hotel may not be Wes Anderson at his deepest As fascinating — and maddening — as it can be watching the arguments that emerge between the fans and detractors of any given filmmaker, it can be almost more fascinating watching fans argue amongst themselves. by Scott Renshaw 03/19/2014
New Times San Luis Obispo Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel Ken Korman says Wes Anderson's latest quirky comedy is one of his best by Ken Korman 03/18/2014
15 more reviews...
New Times San Luis Obispo 2014: The Year in Film Ken Korman's Top 10 list of personal favorites from the films that debuted in New Orleans during 2014. by Ken Korman 12/22/2014
Indy Week Self-aware winks in Grand Budapest Hotel Ralph Fiennes, Wes Anderson movie is an exciting adventure tale by Nathan Gelgud 03/19/2014
Boise Weekly The Grand Budapest Hotel: Hungary Games Now playing at The Flicks by George Prentice 03/26/2014
Seven Days The Grand Budapest Hotel by Rick Kisonak 04/02/2014
The North Coast Journal Weekly Self Sabotage Ayers, Aronofsky succumb, Anderson escapes by John J. Bennett 04/03/2014
Portland Mercury Checking In, with Baggage The next stop on the Wes Anderson Tour: The Grand Budapest Hotel. by Erik Henriksen 03/12/2014
Creative Loafing Tampa Stay at The Grand Budapest Hotel Make your reservations now for Wes Anderson’s loopy, visually stunning dark comedy. by Joe Bardi 03/28/2014
East Bay Express The Grand Budapest Hotel They come and they go. by Kelly Vance 03/12/2014
Chicago Reader Wes Anderson checks in to The Grand Budapest Hotel Moviegoers will check in to The Grand Budapest Hotel, but they should check out The Missing Picture. by J.R. Jones 03/12/2014
Colorado Springs Independent The Grand Budapest Hotel: Even when Wes Anderson overreaches, he somehow succeeds It feels like there's something going on besides an elaborate caper framework, but I'll be damned if I'm ready to figure out exactly what that something is. by Scott Renshaw 03/26/2014
The Coast Halifax The Grand Budapest Hotel Girl with popcorn rates boy with apple by Tara Thorne 04/10/2014
Gambit Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel Ken Korman says Wes Anderson's latest quirky comedy is one of his best by Ken Korman 03/18/2014
Inlander Surface Pleasures The Grand Budapest Hotel is a delight, even if it's not Wes Anderson at his deepest by Scott Renshaw 03/27/2014

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