Wes Anderson is the most visually distinctive film director since Stanley Kubrick. Other than his first film, the six that followed — Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Moonrise Kingdom — all looked similarly idiosyncratic to the point of being immediately identifiable, even just by a still frame, as “Andersonian.” His eighth feature, The Grand Budapest Hotel, is at once a typical Wes Anderson movie and also something much more.
Taking place within a flashback within a flashback within a flashback — it actually makes a fitting kind of sense once you see it — Ralph Fiennes plays Gustave H., the concierge and unofficial manager of a majestic hotel lodged high in the mountains of the fictional Republic of Zubrowka, in 1932.
The hotel itself feels like a cinematic dollhouse, and not just due to Anderson’s artistic use of ornate miniatures. Populated by guests who frequent the hotel often solely for the luxury of Gustave’s private company, the hotel is a lavish destination for all types of elite guests and a coveted place of employment. The course of events in the film are told from the point of view of Zero (Tony Revolori), the new lobby boy at the Grand Budapest.
When one of Gustave’s regular companions, the 84-year-old Madame D. (an unrecognizable Tilda Swinton), dies suddenly of what is ruled to be a poisoning and Gustave is bequeathed her most prized painting, he finds himself embroiled in an absolutely hilarious caper involving bitter relatives, suspicious officers, ruthless criminals, colour-coordinated concierges, and his faithful lobby boy.
Anderson is known for reusing cast members in subsequent films, but The Grand Budapest Hotel may be his most expansive reunion to date. Past collaborators Bob Balaban, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Swinton, Owen Wilson, and Wallace Wolodarsky all return. Joined by newcomers F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Fiennes, Jude Law, Revolori, Saoirse Ronan, Léa Seydoux, Fisher Stevens, and Tom Wilkinson, The Grand Budapest has one of the largest and most respected casts of any modern comedy, and makes wonderful use of each and every actor.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is a maturely envisioned and cleverly constructed comedy. For example: The film jumps between three different time periods, and to help the audience keep them straight, Anderson uses a different screen ratio (1.33:1, 1.85:1, and 2.35:1) for each one. Touches like this give the movie a unique flavour at once fitting for an Anderson picture and yet refreshingly new and different for the director.
The script is remarkably funny, perhaps more overtly so than anything Anderson has done to date. It allows the movie a wonderful blend of visual art and loose comedy that seems like a natural evolution for Anderson while also proving to be a bridge between his hip audiences of fans and those who’ve never found his films to be accessible enough for mainstream tastes.
Anderson’s previous film, 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom, felt like a greatest-hits compilation of his prior movies (magnificent, though it was), sampling tones, characters, themes, story threads, and relationships in a melange that felt brilliant to those unfamiliar with his catalogue but oddly repetitive to those who’d followed his films with a fanatical fervour.
What remained to be seen was whether Anderson had run out of original ideas or if it was simply the closing of the first chapter of his career. As The Grand Budapest Hotel proves, Moonrise Kingdom was the swan song of what will likely be known as the Early Wes Anderson Years. The Grand Budapest Hotel is the beginning of Chapter 2. And what a stunning and auspicious start it is, too.