Wes Anderson goes European in The Grand Budapest Hotel
There’s a distinct, heightened visual tone to Wes Anderson’s films, developed in definition and employment over the course of his two decade career. This exaggerated realism has become a cornerstone of the filmmaker’s work to such an extent that each of Anderson’s films are quite clearly recognisable as his own. The issue is that Anderson is so secure in his visual style, engaging though it may be, that he seems reluctant to modify his distinctive aesthetic for the benefit of the film.
The power of The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson’s latest film, is significantly diminished by the filmmaker’s incessant style and one can’t help but wonder whether the film might have been better off with a more subdued sense of the outrageous. There is much to admire in The Grand Budapest Hotel, which works fantastically as a sentimental adventure story, but there’s an occasional detachment to Anderson’s direction and characters that rips us right out of the film.
It’s an unfortunate frustration, considering how much there is to admire about The Grand Budapest Hotel. There’s an impression of nostalgia for a bygone era throughout the film, which conjures up the atmosphere of classic Hitchcock adventure thrillers such as The 39 Steps or North by Northwest. The film and its characters long for a past that may be less dear than their idealised memories my be willing to recognise.
A young writer (Jude Law) is drawn into conversation by aged millionaire Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) during a quiet interlude at the long-fatigued Grand Budapest Hotel. On hearing some strange rumours about Moustafa, who owns the hotel, the writer engages with the man about his past, the history of the antiquated building and how he came into his fortune.
Much of the film follows Zeroas a young man (Tony Revolori), the recently appointed lobby boy in the then-glamorous Grand Budapest, and his developing friendship with the hotel’s devoted concierge Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes). The two are drawn into a murder conspiracy, of which Gustave is the chief suspect, and they are forced to abscond together in order to clear his name.
Fiennes transforms himself into the charismatically flamboyant Gustav H., delivering Anderson’s exaggerated dialogue and scenarios with such conviction that he often accents the shortcomings of his fellow cast members. There’s a classicism to his character, the sort of brash rogue one can’t help but admire because he maintains a certain moral observance. The remaining cast is competent, but don’t have Fiennes’ overwhelming presence to overcome the sense of the removed in Anderson’s style.
The world of the fictional hotel is vibrant, Anderson taking inspiration from a variety of distinct European countries. The story itself is heavily inspired by the work of early 20th century writer Stefan Zweig. It’s also Anderson’s funniest film since his 2009 Fantastic Mr. Fox, the filmmaker still employing his uncanny ear for offbeat dialogue.
It’s a compelling discussion, whether a filmmaker can be considered in relation to his entire body of work. I am inclined to believe, to a certain degree, that acknowledging a director’s previous work is a legitimate form of appreciation, and that Anderson’s exaggeration might have been more exciting in The Grand Budapest Hotel had it not dominated his entire career.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is entertainingly light but there’s certainly a repetitive nature to Anderson’s films and he seems unwilling to push himself out of his comfort zone. It’s exciting to see such meticulous craftsmanship in a film – every frame filled with astonishing detail – and there’s a fantastic sense of completion to Anderson’s fairy tale world in The Grand Budapest Hotel. But there’s an isolation between film and audience sometimes that belies Anderson’s warm intentions.