Monday, April 14, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel; comedy, USA, 2014; D: Wes Anderson, S: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, F. Murray Abraham, Jude Law, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Harvey Keitel, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson

A girl reads a book entitled: "The Grand Budapest Hotel". In it, the author writes how he was once in that hotel and met an ageing man, Zero Moustafa, who told him how he started working in the hotel as a lobby boy as a kid in the 1930s, when the hotel was part of the Republic of Zubrowka: his boss, concierge Gustave, found out his 84-year old mistress, Madame D., was killed, and inherited a valuable painting to him. However, her son, Dmitri, wanted to take all the inheritance and managed to frame Gustave as her killer. Zero manages to escape with Gustave from prison and prove that Madame H. left all her estate to him.

"The Grand Budapest Hotel" once again embodies Wes Anderson's directing: overwhelming stylization, underwhelming storyline and characters. The whole film is meticulously designed, framed and set up, with a clever and inventive idea of switching the aspect ratios between 1.33:1, 1.85:1 and 2.35:1—depending on each timeline—whereas the narrative has equal audacity, since it is a story-within-a-story-within-a-story, starting from a girl reading the title novel (a borrowed idea from Anderson's previous film "The Royal Tenenbaums") about a writer who meets concierge Zero who finally tells the tale of the hotel. Ralph Fiennes is excellent as the cynical Gustave, and even though Anderson's humor is getting thinner and thinner with each film, he manages to ignite a few chuckles (when he spots the dead Madame D. in the coffin, Gustave says: "My dear, you look wonderful. They did a great job, you almost look better than when you were alive"). The fictional Republic of Zubrowka is symbolic for Yugoslavia, a state that doesn't exist anymore, and its story is a synecdoche, an anti-history of Europe before and after World War II: Gustave's imprisonment in the German jail is an allegory of the Third Reich's occupation of Yugoslavia, while the arrogant Dmitri, who wants to eliminate him through treachery, is an allegory of the Soviet failed attempts to subjugate Tito. However, just like Tarantino and Godard, Anderson is unwilling or unable to insert any pathos into his (later) stories, and as such all the characters seem fake, underwritten and underused—almost as if the director just assembled all his previous actors, from Wilson to Murray, because he felt it was his duty to have them there, and not because they have any function in the overcrowded story—which ultimately extended the dead artificiality of the fictional hotel to every atom of the film.


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