Friday, March 27, 2015

Michael5000 Returns to the Movies: The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson, 2014.

imbd: #184 (8.1)
     (March 1, 2015: #185, 8.1)
Ebert: Never got to see it.
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%(!) Fresh
Provenance: Watched on small screen, on Morgan's recommendation.

Wes Anderson has directed a long series of glib, stylized, and more or less surreal comedies.  They have all had their strengths, including the important merit of being entertaining, but the overall trend has been gradually downhill.  Over the years, Anderson's signature quirks have been dulled by repetition, and watching his movies has sometimes made one wonder if being a wistful, harmless oddball is always a sufficient qualification for being the hero of a motion picture.  But never mind all that, because The Grand Budapest Hotel surpasses everything that has come before, wedding the Wes Anderson style to rich historical and literary traditions, nested narrative frames of stories within stories four or five layers deep, homages to who knows how many classic films, and cinematography to die for.  It is also funny as hell.

Plot: In a faded European capital, a young girl meditates on her nation's greatest author... who wrote a story about the owner of a huge old hotel... who, in his youth, was mentored by a remarkable concierge named M. Gustave.  Gustave fancies himself an unflappable service-professional superhero of the Jeeves variety, but can only pull off the act 95% of the time.  It is the other 5% of the time that makes him interesting.  Liking the cut of the jib of his new lobby boy, he enlists the lad in a series of wacky adventures involving a disputed will, art theft, trains being stopped for inspection at the frontier by military authorities, the murder of people who know too much, the murder of people who don't know enough, flight from a sadistic hit man through alpine scenery, an elaborately complicated prison break, gunplay, and so on.  It's all very silly, but it's good silly, boisterously energetic and unapologetically entertaining.

Visuals: The plot is an excellent excuse for the visuals, which are magnificent.  From iconic exterior shots of Mitteleuropa towns and countryside, to the spectacularly shabby interiors of the hotel itself, every image in the film is framed with loving care.  Costumes, sets, props, and furniture all capture an exaggerated sense of Old World decline.  The hotel itself is a marvel.  If a great luxury palace was given a grand renovation in 1967 by the tourism apparatus of a socialist state, and kept immaculate but unchanged ever since, that would the Grand Budapest Hotel.  Its interiors are too perfect to be sets; I think the location must surely have been found, and however much they paid the location scout it was less than he or she deserved.  [The Grand Budapest is a much more liveable sort of place than the collapsing Majestic Hotel of J. G. Farrell's amazing 1970 novel Troubles, but both are vessels carrying the relics of a dying way of life on a doomed, tragic, hilarious voyage into the future.  I wonder if Wes Anderson has read Troubles?]

Dialogue: Extremely stylized, with soliloquies delivered overtly into the camera and characters speaking in the slightly unnatural, formal, dusty language of translated Eastern European fiction.  With occasional swearing for comic bathos, which is funnier than it has any right to be.

Prognosis: Really fun, really funny, and highly recommended for anybody who likes a glib and world-weary movie with heart and vim.  Michael 5000's imdb rating: 9.

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