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The Grand Budapest Hotel: Service in a nervous world

The Grand Budapest Hotel


Wes Anderson will win an Academy Award in his lifetime. It probably won't be for his best film (as was the case with Martin Scorsese, who finally won Best Director for "The Departed" in 2006, a good film, however, "Taxi Driver" it wasn't) but the Academy will eventually buckle under the weight of his staggering genius.

Maestro Fresh Wes
Fox Searchlight

After the monotone but well-received "Moonrise Kingdom" (Oscar nom for Best Screenplay, 2012), Anderson returns in full voice with "The Grand Budapest Hotel." The film chronicles the life and times of the hotel's fabled concierge Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) and his protege Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori).

Anderson notes in the closing credits that the film was inspired by the writings of an obscure Austrian writer, Stefan Zweig. Zweig's memoir, "The World of Yesterday," in particular, is cited as a major influence on the screenplay, as noted by The New Yorker.

Longing for a bygone era is a central theme in Anderson's eighth film as director. The fictional republic of Zubrowka is a land of dark, frigid mystery and the spectre of World Wars I & II and all their trappings hang over the proceedings throughout.

Even in this foreboding atmosphere, Gustave, Zero and their associates display a sense of honor and valor in their dialogue and actions.

The film works well as an exquisitely paced adventure while hammering home a number of poignant messages. One of the most prevalent is the essential nature of the personal touch, seemingly a lost artform in this detached digital age.

Gustave is a doting and exacting concierge; not only does he anticipate the needs of the hotel's guests but he also takes an interest in their well-being which creates a mutual sense of good will—there is sincerity in his actions, but he is not above self-interest either.

Gustave is of rare quality but ultimately he is utterly human as well. We get a good sense of this duality in the scene after Gustave and Ludwig (Harvey Keitel) manage to break out of prison. Zero comes to aid Gustave's getaway without securing a safehouse and forgets to bring Gustave a disguise.

Gustave chides Zero for his oversights and laments that his tutelage was all for naught. But Gustave feels remorse for his anger and quickly thanks Zero for his friendship and aiding in his rescue.

Cinematography-devotees will rejoice in Anderson's use of "plainmetric style." For those of us who are less technically inclined, it can simply be stated that the film has a striking look. From its condensed letterbox format (4:3, we believe) to cinematographer Robert Yeoman's scenes drenched in grainy black-and-whites, sepia tones and pastel imagery for contrast, the film is aesthetically singular.

Wes Anderson's films have featured emotional violence in the past—with equal amounts of quirky humor for balance—but "Grand Budapest" is his first with a number of graphic scenes (spoiler alert: Jeff Goldblum's Kovacs character meets a particularly gruesome demise).

Anderson maintains his childhood whimsy throughout and his penchant for perfectionism is rampant here, but this is clearly his darkest and most mortality-conscious film to date. The director teases his viewers with a Hollywood ending, but in the end the elder Moustafa (played expertly by F. Murray Abraham) sums it up best in his closing dialogue with the Author/Narrator (Jude Law):

(When speaking of the hotel) "We were happy here. For a time." A direct reference to Moustafa's relationship with baker apprentice, Agatha (Saorise Roman), but the quote applies to the film in general. The pith here is unmistakable with Anderson suggesting that life tends towards brief passages of joy perpetually threatened by tremendous sorrow.

True of any time period, but altogether fitting for these largely disenchanting times we're all muddling through.

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