There’s just no way to experience the full atmosphere of homage, humor, and color that Wes Anderson squeezed into Grand Budapest Hotel on three viewings, forget one. There’s bound to be an instance of Fellini-esque makeup overlooked, or a moment of J.P. Melville-like dimness that won’t cease to be chilling, and so forth. However, it’s only fair to go back and also re-enjoy how this ensemble gets it right in terms of “awkwardness” chemistry.
In every Anderson film that came before, such interaction would run into moments of somber contemplation and alienation. Here, the awkwardness finally becomes hilarious and intense for every second it occurs (barring two moments of emotional reflection). Perhaps it’s because this is the most brutal and gripping Anderson setting yet, occurring in a pre-war Europe of 1932 where peace is strained thin. It is after all based on the writings of Stefan Zweig, who fled the Nazis prior to World War II but committed suicide while the war was becoming more destructive.
The first hand narrative of M. Gustave H. (via second-hand recording by Jude Law’s Writer) and his whodunit run-in comes from the chaptered input of Zero, a caricature of countless ethnic sleuth sidekicks from old Hollywood fare who has a more overt identity and background than his boss. Playing the more grounded of the pair, Tony Revolori highlights his feature-length debut with a stand-off air of setting the record straight and letting everyone know it in delightfully reserved fashion.
Elsewhere, Wes’ cast of stock performers own each shot they’re in. Edward Norton again pulls off the caring idiot of authority by thriving on deadpan deliverance. Jeff Goldblum. No better way to sum it up. Jeff Goldblum. Adrien Brody and Willem Dafoe work as a villainous pair by representing a contrast between loud, lively presence and silent, invisible *spoiler.* Saoirse Ronan literally shines not just alongside Revolori, but also during what might be the best lighting effect to appear in Anderson’s overall work. And the supporting, bit, and cameo players that continue from there are a tiresome listing, but each makes a contribution that inflates the plot direction in a zany fashion.
As fantastic as Tilda Swinton, Mathieu Amalric, and Harvey Keitel were in their unexpectedness, the 90-plus minutes belong to Ralph Fiennes. Seriously, I had to IMDB him in order to kickstart my memory of whether he’s ever smiled in a role more than here. His Gustave is quickly recognized as another Anderson patriarch by his self-righteous yet sunny outlook and underlying struggle against resignation to a changing world. Unlike Tenenbaum and Zissou before him, though, Gustave floats his ego by nurturing the outsider instead of his own legacy, even when the situation becomes grave for him. He actually endears to his friends instead of estranges!
With a career highlighted by villains and stone-faced supporting characters, prior to watching the movie Fiennes just wasn’t pictured as fitting this kind of humorous persona. Up until the screening, I anticipated Fiennes’ character to be more of a sorrowful soul weighed by regret. Hell, when first viewing the promo pictures, I mistook him for a hair-colored, mostly clean shaven Bill Murray (There was a Herman Blume vibe to him, after all).
But I was self-evident I underestimated him following Gustave’s encounter with Madame D. It was obvious how he worked with the creators to mold and display a personality that appeared to be both old favorite and new approach. The way he progresses conversation with those around him echoed post-Tramp Chaplin roles in terms of mannerism, but for moments of frustration and anger he flows from this mood to channeling Harry Waters from In Bruges and back again without a skip. It’s the kind of shout out that the movie should be packed with, and going back to my opening point, Anderson complies.
The mentions and homages (be they intended or coincidental) are an even mix of classic and contemporary, from La Roue – like silhouettes against the mountains to a stunner that screams “Hugo Stiglitz!;” from driving home the dual narrator- audience approach as an Amadeus tribute by involving Salieri himself (F. Murray Abraham as the elder Zero), to featuring Murray and Bob Balaban in their second movie since February that involves *spoiler.*
And the Anderson trademarks in visual effects and set designs don’t cease either. The color backdrops maintain their light tones, the stop motion animation returns for at least one thrilling sequence, and most forms of distant transit and structure have a cardboard-ness about them.
It was hoped that the director could finally break free of 1960s reminiscence, but at least its representative would often blend into the real audience as the plot unfolded. There is one issue, however, that detracts from the character flow and is still head-scratching: exactly what was the intended purpose of Owen Wilson’s role? To create another layer of tension as the new concierge once Gustave returned? If so, this is either a jarring editing flaw or justification for me to re-watch for overlooked clues.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is thorough fun in how it allows the viewer to choose among enjoying, observing, and absorbing each scene without the risk of diminishing any option’s benefits on subsequent watches. It’s the ultimate combination of library, lobby and gallery that Wes Anderson strives for; right when I’m convinced the whole picture’s scanned, there’s always a different Easter egg that rolls out. He’s done it before, so why stop here?