The Grand Budapest Hotel (USA/Germany; 100 min.)


directed by:
Wes Anderson
starring: Ralph Fiennes; Tilda Swinton; Adrien Brody; Willem Dafoe; Tony Revolori; Saoirse Ronan; Jeff Goldblum; Owen Wilson; Bill Murray
The Grand Budapest Hotel

Jason says: "When trailers for THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL first started appearing a few months ago, I felt some apprehension. Not so much because I often think I like director Wes Anderson less than I do, but because a large fraction of the enterprise seemed to rest upon Ralph Fiennes being light and funny, and when has that ever happened on-screen? It happens here, though, with Fiennes one of the major moving parts that keeps Anderson's meticulously constructed machine moving.

“Fiennes plays Gustave H, the head concierge at a resort hotel in a small Eastern European country who sees to the guests' every need with efficiency and a certain variety of perfumed charm - especially the rich old ladies. When one (Tilda Swindon) kicks the bucket and leaves Gustave a priceless painting, her son Dmitri (Adrien Brody) is enraged; he has a Pinkerton-type thug (Willem Dafoe) frame Gustave for her death. It becomes a game of cat-and-mouse, with Gustave, lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori), and Zero's beloved Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) facing war, secret societies, and murder most foul.

“There are plenty of other players involved, to an almost absurd degree. The list of on-screen talent for this movie reads like the work of a downright gluttonous casting director, and they are stuffed into the film in every way possible. There are a couple of gags whose entire punch line seems to be ‘hey, isn't that [famous actor]?’. There are folks buried under so much makeup that one wonders why the filmmakers didn't just cast someone age-appropriate. There are quick glimpses of analogous characters that make one wonder about alternate casting scenarios where Bill Murray or Bob Balaban took Fiennes's role. And finally and firstly, the main body of the movie is contained within no less than three layers of bookends, allowing multiple different characters to look back and be played by more than one actor. Wes Anderson has always assembled cool, star-studded casts, but one wonders if he is engaging in some sort of self-parody here.

“Of course, if he is it might be difficult to tell such an activity from his normal sort of unapologetic artifice, which arguably becomes self-justifying in this case: Put the story Zero is telling underneath multiple layers of fictionalization and memory, and both the Hollywood cast and the trademark fanciful, brightly colored design and elaborate staging gain a certain justification. Anderson, as he tends to do, sometimes takes this too far - does the movie really need to be shot in at least three separate aspect ratios, with only a couple of minutes filling the entire screen (if that), and how carefully did he calculate the exact amount of cheer to suck out of things toward the end? - but sometimes going that far is the only way to discover how funny fisticuffs can become just by slowing the pace of a scene down, or letting details like the relative quality of a cupcake's icing add more to a scene than you might think.

Anderson is, after all, pretty farm good at this, and THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is him in top form. There are a number of sequences in this movie that are just brilliantly staged bits of elaborate deadpan absurdity - the prison break is a favorite of mine, although there's something perfectly and hilariously unreal about a chase down a ski slope. Impressively, that breezy and whimsical air occasionally gives way to a legitimately sinister atmosphere (it's impressive how easily Brody and Dafoe transition between comic villains and the genuinely threatening variety), which feels legitimate even though the movie will return to slapstick soon enough. The film also makes occasional jumps into cheerily vulgar territory that one might not expect from such a colorful, quirky, and, yes, controlled movie.

“And probably nobody handles that better than Ralph Fiennes who, apparently, can actually be genuinely funny when he puts his mind to it (okay, he's done it before, but it seems relatively rare). This is certainly not the most complex character he's ever played, but it's a genuinely delightful performance, smoother than silk to the point where it's easy to miss something hardscrabble or profane coming out of Gustave until a beat or two later, hamming it up at times without disturbing the pinpoint precision of the film. He's balanced by Tony Revolori, who gives Zero plain-spoken sincerity and an understated confidence that one doesn't necessarily see in Anderson heroes - as much as he appreciates this new father figure in his life, he's not desperate for one, and already has his gaze set forward, toward Agatha. There are also some highly capable scene-stealers in the movie - anything with Jeff Goldblum, Adrien Brody, and/or Willem Dafoe is gold, and Owen Wilson makes me laugh just at the laid-back incongruity of his character. Given the quality of the ridiculously packed cast, there's not a bad performance to be found, although plenty of people not given the room to do as much as they are capable of.

“That's the way it is with many of Anderson's movies; the surface is so impressively rendered that the core, if there's one, can barely peek out. Here, a late attempt to add heft almost backfires, feeling like he has awkwardly grafted adult ambiguity onto a farce. Moments like that are notable for being the exception, though, with the vast majority of the movie very funny indeed, with a main pair who can give it a bit more spark than it might otherwise have. 4.4 cats

“Seen 6 March 2014 in the Brattle Theatre #1 (first-run, DCP)”

Chris says:  "By now, the phrase 'A Wes Anderson Film' carries with it a vast, intricate stylistic template, dictating everything from set design and title fonts to a precise sensibility refracted through distinct character types, situations and humor. What tends to get lost when viewing the films solely via their director are the extraordinary, revelatory lead performances which uncover other dimensions to them: think Jason Schwartzman as Max Fischer, Gene Hackman as Royal Tenenbaum or Bill Murray as Steve Zissou (or Herman Blume). On occasion, Anderson achieves a similar effect via a true ensemble (for instance, MOONRISE KINGDOM, in which both Bruce Willis and Edward Norton revealed new facets of themselves, albeit in smaller roles); still, think of how different BOTTLE ROCKET might’ve been without Owen and Luke Wilson, or FANTASTIC MR. FOX without George Clooney.

"Likewise, it’s hard to imagine Anderson’s eighth feature without Ralph Fiennes. Often cast as either a villain (a Nazi in SCHINDLER’S LIST, Voldemort in the HARRY POTTER series) or a romantic lead (THE ENGLISH PATIENT), he hasn’t had too many straight-up comedic roles. Credit Anderson, then, in perceiving this ability in Fiennes: his Gustave H. is an inspired creation and one that suits the actor beautifully. As head concierge of the film’s titular institution, he’s outwardly cultured but never a crass snob, convincingly virile (he irresistibly and literally charms the pants off a certain kind of woman) but unapologetically fey (he refers to all, female or male, as 'darling'), effectively commandeering in his work but respectfully modest of his place and role (look at the shabby servants quarters where he resides). When one of the film’s narrators says, 'His world had vanished long before he entered it. But he sustained the illusion with a marvelous grace,' one suspects Fiennes kept those words in mind throughout filming—he’s fitfully funny, but, like the best Anderson heroes, he never obscures his character’s dignity and gravitas, his insecurities sometimes abruptly but always believably surfacing to show he’s more than a caricature.

"This is alternately Anderson’s European film (shot in Germany but set in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka), his early 20th Century period film (mostly set in 1932) and his action/adventure caper film (his first to climax with an epic shoot-out!). The story of Gustave H., told via a literary device akin to what THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS used, begins briefly in the present, steps back for a moment to 1985, then further back to 1968, where our first narrator (Jude Law) visits the titular hotel, now a tarnished, horridly 'modernized' shell of its former self. He meets owner Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who recounts how the Grand Budapest came into his possession following his stint as the hotel’s young lobby boy, mentored by the legendary Gustave H. We learn that the sudden, mysterious death of Gustave’s dearest companion (an unrecognizable, aged via makeup Tilda Swinton) set off a chain of events involving a desired, rare painting, the companion’s vengeful son (Adrien Brody), his violent, evil henchman (Willem Dafoe, perfectly cast), a young bakery worker with a facial scar in the shape of Mexico (Saoirse Ronan), plus stints in prison, an impending war and a slew of cameos from Anderson regulars (Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Owen Wilson, among many others). Newcomer Tony Revolori rounds out the cast as the young Moustafa, often holding his own with Fiennes.

"Less a departure for Anderson than a continued honing of his particular (some less charitable would say peculiar) sensibility, its jaunty pace and positioning as an unambiguous comedy give it a wider-than-usual appeal, which may explain why it will likely end up his biggest hit to date. It is immensely enjoyable and, like all Anderson films, endlessly rewatchable, with subtle details making themselves known on subsequent viewings. For me, it falls short from occupying that upper echelon of Anderson’s works because it simply doesn’t resonate as deeply. I’m not certain as to exactly why—all the elements are there, from Gustave’s character arc to his mentoring of Moustafa, but nothing here is as, for lack of a better word, special as the wistful, final shots of RUSHMORE and MOONRISE KINGDOM or those moments of understanding organically established between various family members throughout THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS. Still, this is ultimately a minor quibble for a film with more than enough to recommend it, even to those who don’t like Wes Anderson, though thankfully, he’s remained true to himself—I’d much rather he made an imperfect film than a calculated, crowd (and detractor) pleasing one.  4.5 cats"

Julie says:  "This was a delightful movie! Thanks goes to Brett for recommending it!

"Directed by Wes Anderson, (which I did not know going in) it has his mark of funny dark humor all over it. It reminded me also of films such as DELICATESSEN and MICMACS. There are some great cameo's (so many!-who I've only seen in serious roles up until now so quite a surprise)... and who knew that Ralph Fiennes could be so funny!

"Newcomer Tony Revolori is the perfect deadpan sidekick as the young lobby boy prodige (Zero) to Fiennes Monsieur Gustave, devoted  concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel. Zero's girl friend  Agatha played by Saorise Ron was also quite good.

"I guarantee there will be production design noms for this one. So clever! I had to laugh out loud at points (even the second time around.... often due to combination of the storyline action mixed with the set design)..... Freakin' genius!"

Kyle says: "As of today's date, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is the top-grossing independent film of 2014 at just about sixty million dollars, and Wes Anderson's most financially successful of the eight feature films he has directed. To read the stellar cast he was able to assemble is a tribute to how ready and willing some of the world's finest actors are to work with him. Fellow Chlotrudians Jason, Chris and Julie have shared their views on the film, and I add my enthusiasm for this delicious confection, even if my favorite Wes Anderson film remains FANTASTIC MR. FOX.

"For me the most significant aspect of the film is the continuing creative collaboration between director Wes Anderson and composer Alexandre Desplat, who is probably the most successful composer in current international cinema in terms of memorable quality and prodigious output. Desplat was the President of the Jury of the recent Venice Film Festival, an unheard of distinction for a composer of film music, and a token of the great esteem in which he is held by colleagues, such as directors Roman Polanski, Stephen Frears, Jacques Audiard, and of course, Wes Anderson. Although I believe Desplat's tribute to Benjamin Britten in MOONRISE KINGDOM, and his joyful conflation of whimsy and childlike games in FANTASTIC MR. FOX are superior achievements, his music for THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is certain to garner his seventh Academy Award nomination for original score, joining prior nominations for PHILOMENA, ARGO, THE KING'S SPEECH, FANTASTIC MR. FOX, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, and THE QUEEN.

"The conception and use of music in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL are based in widespread use and noisy texture of the balalaika, a Russian three-stringed triangular instrument plucked with fingers or pick, heard most famously in Maurice Jarre's score for DOCTOR ZHIVAGO. Two balalaika orchestras are featured in Desplat's score -- the Ludmila Zykina State Academic Balalaika Ensemble, and the Orchestre de Balalaikas Saint-Georges. The balalaika provides an unmistakable Eastern European flavor to the film. But that is only the beginning. Desplat additionally deploys an orchestra comprised of flute, recorder, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, brass, alpenhorn, percussion, organ, cimbalom, zither, celeste, harp, timpani, and two whistlers, of whom composer Desplat is one, as well as the London Voices Choir. Desplat's use of a concerto by Antonio Vivaldi for lute and strings, and the decidedly exotic character of this score, not to mention his industry popularity, make it seem likely to me at least that Desplat will finally win an Oscar for THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL. In any case, his partnership with director Anderson remains one of the richest in current cinema. 4 cats"