“You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that’s what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant… oh, fuck it.”
Wes Anderson films have sort of carved themselves their own genre: quirky, beautiful, smart, and funny, with a lot going on behind the scenes. It’s that last bit that makes or breaks them for audiences. Sometimes, the deep metaphors are essential to understanding and enjoying the film, as is the case for some of his less popular works like The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited; others are enjoyable whether you grasp the deep and usually obscure underlying themes or not. The Grand Budapest Hotel, starring Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori, is one of the latter. There are some deeper themes here that I admittedly don’t fully understand, including some parallels to the Holocaust, but the film is accessible for a general audience that doesn’t want to watch the film multiple times to pick up all the subtle clues. This all adds up to one of the most purely entertaining Wes Anderson films in his collection, keeping everything that makes his films great while going light on what held audiences away from some of his earlier films.
The plot is several layers deep, but tells the story of Zero, a young lobby boy at the Grand Budapest Hotel, as he begins his training under M. Gustave, a legendary concierge who has become, in many ways, the face of the hotel. When a long-time patron dies and leaves Gustave something in her will, he and Zero fall into a web of deceit and treachery as some dangerous characters fight over her fortune. In the background, war breaks out in the fictional country Zubrowka, raising the stakes and making things more dangerous for all the characters.
I began to realize that many of the hotel’s most valued and distinguished guests came for him. It seemed to be an essential part of his duties… But I believe it was also his pleasure.
The intro of the film shows us a rapid sequence of scenes revealing that the main plot of this film is a story of a story of a story. We go back and forth through the levels a bit, although it’s not difficult to follow. One interesting thing is that Anderson’s trademark style gets thicker each time we go a level deeper. The base level, with a nameless girl admiring an author and his book, is unstylized; the fourth level, showing the young Zero and the Grand Budapest Hotel in its prime, is highly stylized with saturated colors, poetic language, and some over-the-top scenes that are entertaining, but artificial. This is some sort of comment on how our histories become romanticized and idealized as the years wear on and the only records are transcribed from vague memories, although I don’t know that I could explain it with any more depth than that. This seems to be a celebration of nostalgia and good memories even in the midst of horrible events, and it’s just as enjoyable as it should be.
The mood of the film is an interesting mix of quirky, goofy fun and dark, serious events. Some of Wes Anderson’s darkest moments are in this film, but the overall mood is still light and whimsical thanks to how the characters deal with it all. There’s an undying optimism that runs throughout the stories here and the dark moments are painted over with Anderson’s trademark style, softening their blow. This is a fun film to watch and the overall mood is unabashedly positive.
Like most Wes Anderson films, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes in The Grand Budapest Hotel, but there’s plenty going on in plain sight that keeps things enjoyable and engaging for most audiences. If you’ve been turned off to other Anderson films like The Darjeeling Limited, this one is considerably more palatable. If you’re a serious Wes Anderson fan, all of the good things from his other films are present here too. Although not my favorite Anderson film, many consider this to be his best work, and it is undoubtedly one of his most popular.
Director: Wes Anderson
Genres: adventure, comedy