by Jeff Klayman
If Wes Anderson had stopped making films after 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom, his reputation as the undisputed genius of magical realism would have remained undisputed. With his deliriously wacky new film The Grand Budapest Hotel, the director ups the stakes and takes us to the stratosphere and beyond of inventiveness and often jaw-dropping beauty. That this is mingled with a strong dose of despair over the human condition and presages the horrors of the World War II just over the horizon after the closing credits put Budapest in that rare category of true “art.”
Summarizing the plot (does it matter?) of Anderson’s opus would be pointless, as the story unfurls in fits and starts of back to the past, back and forward to the future, as if we were all stuck on an out-of-control carnival ride that leaves us dizzy but giddy and wanting it never to end. Many of the usual suspects from earlier Anderson films are in full frontal display, where others make brief but pungent cameos, all serving the master’s vision of the world as a nice place to visit despite its perils and terrors.
That said, the star of the film would be the hotel itself, an impossibly fairy-tale like creation, resembling a pink wedding cake in its cartoon-like setting atop a mountain in the former Austro-Hungarian empire. Tom Wilkinson, a writer, recalls his youth spent at the hotel, followed by a flashback to his younger self (Jude Law) dining in the ghost-like expanse of the hotel’s restaurant with the former Lobby Boy (F. Murray Abraham). The wonderful newcomer Tony Revolori portrays him as a pint-size youth named Zero, wearing purple uniform and cap, replete with the seriousness of a man about to perform a heart transplant.
It is Ralph Fiennes who steers this ship into greatness. Playing the hotel concierge, M. Gustave H., he is a gay man who nonetheless woos and sleeps with wealthy elderly female guest of the hotel. It is difficult to over-praise the delirious abandon with which Fiennes throws himself into the role, representing a long by-gone era of polite servitude that was the hallmark of “grand” European hotels before the last great war.
There are mini and sub-plots galore involving a stolen painting, a murder putting M. Gustave in prison, an escape rivaling the best of Chaplin or vaudeville, in its intricate and utterly mad and impossible absurdity, a Marx Brothers-like series of relayed telephone calls from hotel to hotel and a resolution of sorts that leaves us breathless and quaking in our seats. What can’t Wes Anderson do? Apparently nothing.
In the large cast, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Ed Norton stand out. Jeff Goldblum earns perhaps the film’s best and most outrageous laugh involving the unfortunate demise of his beloved feline. Special mention to Alexandre Desplat’s brilliant score which runs the gamut from Hungarian Czardas (please stay for all the closing credits) to snippets of Vivaldi and beyond.
Wes Anderson, during the course of eight films, has come as close as anyone in modern filmdom to assembling a veritable ensemble company of seasoned pros who do him proud, none so convincingly as in this latest very worthwhile romp.
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