A VIEW FROM OTHER WINDOWS
This isn’t the first time Wes Anderson has taken his audience by the hand and led them through the oversaturated grandeur of luxury accommodation. Starring Jason Schwartzman and Natalie Portman, 2007’s Hotel Chevalier – a 13-minute short written and directed by Anderson – acted as a bittersweet narrative precursor to his main feature The Darjeeling Limited. While this diminutive picture (strictly in terms of run-time and not charm of course) focused specifically upon the breakdown of a young couple inside the canary yellow walls of a Chevalier suite, Anderson’s return to the hospitality industry is a far more elaborate undertaking.
This time round we are transported to Zubrowka, a fictional Eastern-European land facing the imminent threat of war. Despite such peril resting upon the country’s borders, it is business as usual at the illustrious Grand Budapest Hotel, thanks to devoted concierge, Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes). With his newfound protégé, Lobby Boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) in tow, the foppish concierge reveals the many services he offers to the hotel’s guests; an exclusive duty of the hotelier is going above and beyond for the lonely elderly female patrons. When one such patron pops her clogs – leaving behind a priceless painting for her longtime lover – suspicions are raised and Monsieur Gustave is declared prime suspect in a murder investigation.
As with several of Anderson’s other films, though most notably The Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a cross-country caper jam-packed full of bumpy train rides, chaotic chase sequences, and unmistakable characters – and what a beautiful country the director chooses to plant on cinema screens. In three different aspect ratios (each ratio the real-life cinematic standard for the period depicted onscreen) we stretch our legs upon the violet cobblestones of winding dusk-lit backstreets, bathe in the ornate splendour of the titular hotel’s surroundings, and traverse the snow-kissed peaks of unforgiving mountain ranges.
The expertly choreographed escapades race along at a frantic rate, introducing a recognisably chaotic whirlwind of an Anderson cast in the process. There isn’t a bad performance amongst the bunch, but there are some great ones. Ralph Fiennes effete, Eau de Panache soaked ladies’ man, Monsieur Gustave, proves to be an eloquent yet foul-mouthed delight of hero, while Tony Revolori’s Zero provides the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed protagonist of which Anderson is so fond. In terms of supporting cast the picture is unparalleled in its depth. Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Jude Law, Willem Dafoe, Bill Murray and several others all prove to be inspired casting decisions that bolster the films allure immeasurably.
Anderson’s expeditions are often characterised as quirky, but they are so much more than the assorted Pick ’n’ Mix of kinks and idiosyncrasies he portrays on-screen. At their core, beneath the lovely chocolate box imagery, they are ultimately celebratory fables. The auteur has an unparalleled skill for sucking all of the cynicism out of his storytelling and replacing it with innocence, honesty, and discovery – an inquisitive mind is the route to happiness in the vibrant patchwork universe of Wes Anderson. Thankfully his willingness to keep exploring his New Wave influences and own imagination have resulted in an aesthetically beautiful, lovingly crafted, and deeply layered French pastry of a filmography – The Grand Budapest Hotel is simply the glistening red cherry on top.