Wes Anderson is without question the most visually distinct film-maker working today. His films are chock full of idiosyncrasies like front-on compositions and 90-degree whip pans. His sets look all like dolls houses built to full scale, populated by quirky characters in bright, story-book costumes.
Like a repertory theatre of old, he employs merry band of actors including Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman who make regular appearances in his films — if only for small cameos. While his few critics have accused Anderson’s films of being twee, they remain some of the most lovingly-crafted pieces of work in modern cinema. And with his latest work, The Grand Budapest Hotel, he’s managed to distil his 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 deals with a luxury hotel in Eastern Europe circa 1933. Young refugee Zero (newcomer Tony Revelori) has started as a new 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 maintaining romances with several elderly ladies, so be it. But when one such lady (Tilda Swinton in some significant aging make-up) dies in mysterious circumstances, Gustave is surprised to find he’s been bequeathed her priceless (fictional) painting ‘Boy with Apple’. Naturally, this does not sit well with the family of the deceased 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 as one of the most memorable characters in the Anderson pantheon. He’s a man who knows what he likes: a set of tastes that include 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 undeniable 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 that involve a prison break, a ski-chase and series of Agatha Christie-esque murders, everything feels perfectly placed and immaculately paced. Almost every character is played by a recognisable actor of some sort (Saoirse Ronan, Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe and Bill Murray are just a few) and yet the film is never close to being a gratuitous cavalcade of celebrity cameos.
The overt artifice of Anderson’s style has created an experience that’s more akin to a local theatre 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