The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) Review
By now we all know that Wes Anderson pretty much does one thing really, really well. He has taken his time and career opportunities to refine his brand of craft to perfection, rather than exploring and expirementing with other modes of filmmaking. And that is awesome. Because when I go to see one of his movies, I get to feel instantly comfortable, but simultaneously excited for a new installment, complete with improvements on quirks I already love. On the flipside, I have seen this approach alienate some from accessing his work, which is a risk he seems not to let obstruct his aim. Still, I think he creates a highly accessible particularity; it’s so fun and beautiful, you can’t help but want to be a part of the world he creates.
Which is why one of the dominant themes of his work is characters who create their own worlds, their own illusions and rules and agreements, with themselves at the center. This case is no different. After a series of progressive layers of narrative—reminiscent of Plato’s ‘Symposium,’ and raising all the relevant questions of narrative reliability therein—we get to the core character, Gustave H. (Fiennes). This man is a typically Andersonian charming rascal who may or may not mean well, but whose frame of reality is so strong he pulls others in, with varying results. Anderson uses this character to explore other human conceptual tendencies, such as what constitutes “higher-class” in language, art, and membership. Class tropes such as secret societies; unsolicited, pseudo-intelligent, verbose philosophizing; and haughty idioms (e.g. “as they say”) are subtly poked fun at here. More importantly, though, the message seems to center around how harmless these types of self-created realities are in comparison to some of the greater horrors of mankind when they turn against one another. Ultimately, Anderson pleads the case for the necessity and usefulness of such world-building, in that it provides our lives with beauty to fight off the darkness.
But the clever filmmaker chooses not to make this case somberly. Instead, he lives the beauty, employing his full armada to show us. His typical cast is back—typical here to be equated with extraordinary—and each actor turns in a unique and hilarious performance. The music is thankfully less soundtrack-y, as that would have undermined the story, but is beautiful and original nonetheless. And, of course, what we all really come for, the aesthetic: in addition to intermittently blurring the line between real life and dollhouse-models, every frame is meticulously composed here, mindfulness applied to every detail. I don’t see how one could fully grasp the intricacies of this story’s visual language in just one viewing. There is simply too much for the eye to catch at once, which is what makes these films worth re-watching, owning, and cherishing. And so, though I liked some of his previous films even more, this is a worthy and worthwhile addition, and above all, a great time at the show.