A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Watching a Wes Anderson movie is like being in a parallel universe. It’s not an extremely different place, as in many sci-fi movies, but one that’s recognizable with types of people that we know, only more so. More quirky, more amusing, more something. Anderson often casts some of the same actors repeatedly, but it’s a tribute to the quality of these actors that they can be vastly different characters from one movie to another. For instance, Adrian Brody is nothing at all like his character in “The Darjeeling Limited”.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is an elegant resort in it’s heyday, the early twentieth century, especially under the handsome concierge, Gustave H., played by Ralph Fiennes, bedecked in a purple tuxedo with tails. He is supercilious, sarcastic, cynical and hilarious. Along with running the hotel to exacting standards, he also seduces many of the elderly women guests, who “…are always blond and always rich.” When one of these women dies and leaves him a valuable painting, her family is determined to get rid of him and regain the painting. Adrian Brody is her nasty son, who hires a very scary and menacing Wilem Dafoe to track down the painting, killing anyone who gets in his way. As you can imagine, the violence which ensues was the only thing to mar the movie for me.
Gustave is assisted by Zero, the lobby boy, who has a charming romance with Agatha, who works in the town’s bakery. Their relationship provides several sweet moments in the movie, no pun intended. Edward Norton is perfect as Henkles, the military officer who both helps and hinders Gustave and Zero throughout the movie. He is part of a cast which gives depths to characters who could have been cardboard stereotypes in other hands.
All of the action is narrated by an older man who turns out to be Zero, many decades later, making it a story within a story. As always is in an Anderson film, the scenes are framed in a certain way, whether it is compartments on a train or rooms in a house. In “Grand Budapest, there are multilevel lobbies, circular staircases and a tram car which glides up a mountainside. The humor is not just in the dialogue, which is quite snappy, but also in incongruities such as Zero and Gustave never wearing coats when out in snowy weather.
Though the film is a comedy, there is also a sad undertone, with the elderly Zero recalling not just the adventures of his youth, but also the people he has lost, all within a building which echoes instead of bustles. This gives the movie heart and elevates it above most modern comedies.
I’ve watched this movie multiple times, which is almost mandatory for any Anderson movie, revealing a little more with each viewing. Grand Budapest is a bit darker than some, such as Moonrise Kingdom, but it’s still a very enjoyable confection.
Fox Searchlight Pictures 2014 running time: 1 hour, 40 mins.