Wes Anderson is without question the most visually distinct filmmaker working today. His movies can easily be recognised by his signature front-on compositions and 90-degree whip pans. The sets look all like full-scale dollhouses, populated by quirky characters in bright, story-book costumes.
Like a repertory theatre of old, he employs a merry band of familiar faces like Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman to make regular appearances in his films — if only for small cameos. While his critics often accuse Anderson’s films of being twee, they’re undeniably some of the most lovingly-crafted pieces in modern cinema. And with his latest work, The Grand Budapest Hotel, he’s managed to distil this unique vision to create the most Wes Anderson-ish film yet.
Told as a story-within-a-story-within-a-story (because why not?), the meat of the film revolves around a luxury hotel in Eastern Europe circa 1933. Young refugee Zero (newcomer Tony Revelori) has just started as its lobby boy and before long, he’s taken on as the protégée of the hotel’s eccentric, fastidious, and roguish concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes).
Gustave is the type of hotelier who will go to any length to ensure his guests are in want of nothing. If that means romancing several elderly guests, so be it. But when one such guest (Tilda Swinton in significant make-up) dies in mysterious circumstances, Gustave is surprised to find he’s inherited a priceless family heirloom. Naturally, this does not sit well with her family and Gustave soon finds himself accused of murdering Swinton in equally spurious circumstances.
Though he’s cultivated an unfair reputation as a stuffy British thespian, Fiennes is on fantastically funny form. His M. Gustave easily sits alongside Max Fischer and Royal Tenenbaum in the Anderson pantheon of lovavle eccentrics. He’s a man who knows what he likes, and his tastes extend to pungent perfume and older women (“Always blonde,” the older Zero tells a dinner companion. “Why is that?” he’s asked. “Because they were.”). But above all, Gustave is a man whose greatest treasure is the very hotel in which he works. The rigid spine of the film, Fiennes’ quick delivery and arch reactions help keep the story ticking along at a gleefully breakneck pace.
Coming in at a brisk 99-minutes, Grand Budapest Hotel never feels overstuffed. Despite plot turns involving a prison break, a ski-chase and series of Agatha Christie-esque murders, everything is perfectly placed and immaculately paced. Each new character we meet is played by a recognisable actor (Saoirse Ronan, Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe and Bill Murray are just a few) and yet the film doesn’t feel like a gratuitous cavalcade of celebrity cameos.
The overt artifice of Anderson’s style has created an experience that’s more like seeing a local theatre group than watching a film. While Edward Norton is playing a (probably German) army officer, he doesn’t put on an accent or anything: he just sounds like Edward Norton. We don’t know how to describe it, but the cumulative effect is like watching the classiest Christmas panto ever.
With the recent triple-whammy of The Fantastic Mr Fox, Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson has entered a whole new level as both a visual stylist and as a storyteller. He’s truly at the top of his game.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is in cinemas now