March 12, 2014 Leave a comment
A young girl (Léa Seydoux) is seen clutching a memoir written by an author (Tom Wilkinson; Jude Law) who visited The Grand Budapest Hotel in the 1960s, where he spoke with Zero Mustafa (F. Murray Abraham), a retired page boy and then the hotel’s reclusive owner. Zero relates the story of M. Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), who, along with a young Zero (Tony Revolori), was once implicated in the murder of an elderly guest named Madame D (Tilda Swinton). Her heirs, spurned by their mother’s decision to leave Boy With Apple to Gustave H, seek revenge on The Grand Budapest Hotel. With his employer in prison, Zero must plan an escape with the help of baker and girlfriend Agatha (Saoirse Ronan).
Fans rejoice and detractors dispair, for Wes Anderson has made another movie. Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman and co. are all back for yet another glorified encore, as audiences are served the director’s latest succession of colourful characters, symmetrical scenery and contrived coincidences. Taking centre stage this time are Tony Revolori, Ralph Fiennes and Saoirse Ronan; though new to the director’s style each has received a Wes Anderson make-over and been suitably indoctrinated into learning the stage directions to a level of proficiency usually saved for the script alone.
Anderson doesn’t make films, he makes frames; as such, watching the latest Wes Anderson movie is akin to watching someone else’s holiday slideshow, narrated with all the extraneous detail and self-satisfied in jokes of someone completely unwilling to let the images speak for themselves. Every screenshot seems to demand study, appreciation and its own standing ovation, so that by the time the credits finally roll you are fed up and exhausted. As narrative voice is passed from one pointless character to another, title cards announce chapter headings ever more preposterous than the last and the plot takes endless detours (he even messes with the aspect ratio), it becomes increasingly difficult to invest in anything taking place on screen.
You begin to wonder why Andreson even bothers to film in live-action, but then you remember Fantastic Mr Fox and are suddenly relieved that he doesn’t indulge in animation more often. It doesn’t even seem to be about perfection — as fastidiously placed and positioned as every set, costume and actor might be (you imagine the director patrols the set with a spirit measure and iron) — as, in true Anderson tradition, the performances are anything but. There is a distracting air of amateurishness about The Grand Budapest Hotel, as characters race through the halls of the pristine set as though late for their cue, stomping loudly up the stairs and delivering lines as though they’ve never before experienced human conversation in the wild. It’s supposed to be slapstick, but comes across more like organised fun.
It would be insincere to write The Grand Budapest Hotel off completely; there is a humour to its whimsy that stands it apart from the tedious melancholy of much of Anderson’s other work. That said, the artifice and emotional distance created by the auteur’s absurd attention to detail and complete and utter disregard for logic and reality remains, and it remains as inaccessible, implausible and infuriating as ever.