“You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that’s what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant… oh, fuck it.”
“A number of years ago, while suffering from a mild case of ‘summer fever’ (a chronic form of pulmonary rheumatism) I decided to spend the month of August in the spa village of Nebelhorn below the Alpine Sudetenwaltz — and had taken up rooms in the Grand Budapest — a picturesque, elaborate and once widely-celebrated establishment. I expect some of you will know it. It was off-season and, by that time, decidedly out-of-fashion; and it had already begun its descent into shabbiness and eventual demolition.”
— The Author, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Variety reports that The Grand Budapest Hotel has grossed a tremendous box-office take of $103.8 million worldwide, making it the highest-grossing film ever made by Hollywood power director Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums is second with $71 million worldwide). But let me be honest, I’ve never been a fan of Wes Anderson’s films despite his artistic, palpable visuals and undeniable cult following. As a friend of mine quickly quipped in response to his newest release, “Anderson is a fraudulent artist.”
However, there was something special about The Grand Budapest Hotel; a pivotal shift in direction that not only gave this film a broader appeal, but it has become an instant five-star winner for me–someone vehemently unattracted to the typical Wes Anderson craft of storytelling. Here’s what I have to say in defense of Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel, and why this film works:
In The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson’s storyline revolves around one of his most uncomfortable subject to date–war. The story begins in present day unveiling the ultimate decay and demise of the once regal Grand Budapest Hotel, but rewinds in a few decades of flashbacks from the mid-1980s, back to the late-1960s and focusing predominantly in the 1930s in the fictional European country of Zubrowka.
As director Wes Anderson explains, “Our design for the movie was The Grand Budapest Hotel when it was at its peak, and I just thought we’d make it look like a wedding cake or ice cream parlor with these pastel purple, pink, and red colors. It’s the anti-Overlook Hotel. And then in the ‘60s, it’s more like the Overlook Hotel, and then we make it communist.”
The fictional strife, much like the country, involves the invasion and occupation by army-men titled the “ZZ” who patrol the ins and outs of the once beautiful Zubrowkan republic. 1930s, ZZ army sounds a little familiar, right? The SS, German occupation ring a bell? But the decline of the republic has no shortage of humor, spectacular dialogue and visual-sensory overload in Anderson’s whimsical tale.
Before I explain my qualms with Anderson’s previous films, it would be irresponsible to not uphold him has one of the most visionary directors of the present day. His artistic creativity and surreal visualizations for the world he creates allows me to boast that he’s one of the best visual directors in cinema right now. His pictures are visually recognizable, but his creative eye to lens system is more methodical than I imagined. With Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson and his director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman, shot each time period in the aspect ratio of its era. That means the movie is more or less square in the 1930s and widescreen for the present day.
With all of this being said, Toyiah Murry from The Cinephiliac summarizes precisely the dilemma I have with the “typical” format of Wes Anderson films.
“By showcasing brilliant images filled with striking bold colors that are accentuated by great cinematography and perfect lighting, Anderson proves that he is a phenomenal visionary director, however, it’s his attempt as a writer that causes his films to fail nearly every time. Anderson has a knack for creating intriguing yet oddball characters, such as the precocious 15-year-old Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) in Rushmore, the missing fingered child prodigy Margot Tenenbaum (Gwyneth Paltrow) in The Royal Tenenbaums, and the washed-up stoner oceanographer, Steve Zissou (Bill Murray). Although his characters hold a sense of intrigue due to their uniqueness and quirks, no true human qualities and complexities are shown and therein lies my major gripe with Anderson. He creates an interesting world of abnormal characters, most of which have been child prodigies, yet he does nothing to develop these people and give the audience a true sense of who and why they are. Anderson’s characters are just that; characters. Everyone is solemn and apathetic, they don’t react with genuine emotion, and they converse as if they take life seriously yet in situations don’t act sincerely. Most, if not all, of his characters are unlikable and express little personality for audiences to relate to. Anderson’s films play out as if someone created a false world where problems only exist as a means of plot devices and coincidences. Anderson constructs characters that viewers are supposed to care for, however, they are never developed enough to encourage true empathy from the audience. Sure they have backgrounds and bad pasts but they never show sincere emotion when confronted with it. They are somber, numb, robotic, and simply characters in a film. Films aren’t watched and regarded so highly because we are watching pawns do a part, a good film and great characters draw you in and makes you believe its reality. If it weren’t for his lavish directorial skills and great ear for perfect soundtracks, I believe that Anderson’s cult following wouldn’t be nearly as large as it currently is.”
While a portion of this may ring true with Grand Budapest Hotel, the saving grace of the film is the whimsical, outlandish Ralph Fiennes who brings a sense of comedy that no Anderson alum has accomplished in previous his previous films. The director reeled in his usual A-list troupe including Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzmann, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody and Harvey Keitel to name a few. All actors showed up to play, and they all played damn well; effortlessly in sync with their designated characters.
What initially captured my attention with this Anderson film was it’s historical backbone juxtaposed in a comical, fairytale-esque setting. Anderson’s historical spin and consistently humorous dialogue is the precise edge I had been waiting for from this director, and he finally delivered.
“It’s a film that could be called reactionary — it’s a valentine to aristocratic, pre-WWII Europe as seen through the eyes of a South Asian immigrant — if Anderson weren’t such an aggressively apolitical filmmaker. His main agendas seem to be nostalgia and a dislike of authority (tempered by a love of mentors), and both are on full display here. The Grand Budapest Hotel itself is perhaps Anderson’s biggest and most elaborate toybox to date, and Yeoman’s camera zips and climbs and turns around every corner. You can sense Anderson’s delight in creating this pink bauble of a 1930s luxury spa, and then turning it into a drab Eastern bloc facility laden with instructional signs and molded orange naugahyde lounge chairs. Watching The Grand Budapest Hotel is the kind of wonderfully delirious experience that feels plugged directly into the cerebral cortex of anyone who loves the movies. There’s always some new delight, whether it’s a set piece to look at or a balalaika composition to listen to or a performance to savor.” via The Wrap
If you appreciate the art of cinema, or if you’re looking for a good laugh provided from some of Hollywood’s best actors, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a ticket worth the entry fee; an opinion provided by a Wes Anderson skeptic.