"The Grand Budapest Hotel" Movie Review: 3 1/2 Stars
by Michael Phillips
Ever since the moment in "Bottle Rocket" (1996) when
This is a filmmaker, working in varying degrees of visual stylization, who operates within precise notions of how the universe of his imagining will proceed in terms of story and how his characters will operate within that universe, one carefully composed shot at a time.
Anderson's newest film is many things.
"The Grand Budapest Hotel" qualifies as his most exotically remote achievement in terms of locale; most of it takes place in a fictitious Eastern European province in the early 1930s.
It's also one of Anderson's cleverest and most gorgeous movies, dipping just enough of a toe in the real world -- and in the melancholy works of its acknowledged inspiration, the late Austrian writer
Anyone who dares to call Anderson's work actor-proof would do well to imagine this film with an inferior or ham-fisted performance at its center. Even when the dialogue slips into jokey anachronisms or less-than-sparkling repartee, Fiennes' portrayal of M. Gustave, the finest hotel concierge known to humankind, lends an exceptional deftness to the results.
Anderson treats the ravages of the 20th century as a series of echoes through time. The movie begins in the late 1970s, with an unnamed author (
At the hotel the writer meets the owner, played by
From there, Anderson treats the events as eccentric, elaborate moves on a chessboard, not in fast-motion, exactly, but with each development (Gustave's time in prison; his breakout; the young lobby boy's romance with the hotel baker) a part of an increasingly threatening game. With his quick smile and avid expression of never missing a trick, Fiennes keeps the top spinning. He resembles, deliberately, the real-life Viennese dandy and public figure Zweig, who was born in 1881 and committed suicide with his wife while in Brazilian exile in 1942.
In Zweig's autobiography "The World of Yesterday" he writes about the "hermetic isolation" of the exile's life, moving here and settling there, always amid a "smouldering uneasiness." "The Grand Budapest Hotel" concerns, among others, the lobby boy, Zero, played by newcomer Tony Revolori. Like Zweig, he is a refugee.
Anderson is attempting a tricky magic act here. His made-up land of Zubrowka, which happens also to be a brand of Polish vodka, draws upon the sort of Mittel-European never-never-land atmospherics favored by the early Ernst Lubitsch. (The name of the local paper: The Trans-Alpine Yodel.) But we're also dealing with encroaching fascism, even if nobody speaks of Nazis in "
Throughout, Anderson revels in the mechanics and the delightful fakery of moviemaking illusions gone by. The scenes set aboard the funicular railway resemble the climax of
Sometimes the frivolity feels misplaced. But it's something of a miracle this obsessively diagramed project has a human pulse of any kind. It's getting at the seriousness of its themes by way of the back door, or the servant's entrance. The actors give the brittle material life, mostly comic but dramatic when needed. The familiar pictorial techniques -- the swish pans, pivoting 90 or 180 degrees, capturing in a single shot action, reaction and reaction to the reaction -- are present and accounted for. The dolly shots, intricate but not ostentatious, sweep us into the world of M. Gustave's domain.
Time may reorder his latest in my affections, and I don't love or even like all of Anderson's eight features, certainly not in the same way. But "The Grand Budapest Hotel" may be his best since "Rushmore." It's a mirage of what was. In Zweig's posthumously published "Chess Story," he told a story of a chess master dedicating himself to a monomaniacal pursuit. "The more one limits oneself, the closer one is to the infinite," Zweig wrote. "These people, as unworldly as they seem, burrow like termites into their own particular material to construct, in miniature, a strange and utterly individual image of the world." He could've been writing about
MPAA rating: R (for language, some sexual content and violence). Running time: 1:40.
"The Grand Budapest Hotel" Movie Trailer
The Grand Budapest Hotel recounts the adventures of Gustave H., a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. The story involves the theft and recovery of a priceless Renaissance painting and the battle for an enormous family fortune -- all against the back-drop of a suddenly and dramatically changing Continent