For some, a hotel is a symbol of a comfort. To others it’s a foothold in a faraway place, allowing them to go where they have never gone before. For Wes Anderson, it is a colorful backdrop for love, war, mystery and murder.
While “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is exactly what fans of Anderson have come to love and expect stylistically, it is arguably a darker chapter in the everlasting storybook of quirky misadventures, out-of-place characters and all of the other oddities that comprise the Wes Anderson empire. His new film expands into new territory with a rather grim storyline and a penchant for the macabre.
Anderson takes his meta narrative framework to an entirely new depth this time, presenting a story within a story, as told by separate narrators. Eventually we find ourselves at the door of the Grand Budapest Hotel, a magnificent chateau atop a mountain in pre-World War II Europe. The hotel’s prestigious reputation is the effect of one man: Monsieur Gustav (a brilliant and charismatic Ralph Fiennes).
While he lives and dies by the rules of good hotel service, he is not above tending to the extra needs of several of the hotels elderly women guests, especially when they’re rich. All trademark Anderson hipster-hell breaks loose when one of Gustav’s wealthiest lovers, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton, in more prosthetic make-up than Benjamin Button), is murdered after making him heir to the priceless portrait, “Boy with Apple.” The criminal relatives of Madame D. (led by a gothic Adrian Brody) set Gustav up as the murderer, spurring a cross country game of cat and mouse between them, Gustav and the European army commander Henckles (Edward Norton, more or less revitalizing his clueless man in uniform from “Moonrise Kingdom”).
At Gustav’s side is the faithful Zero, the lobby-boy (newcomer Tony Revolori) who is his apprentice and young confidant. Using the budding friendship between the duo as the heart of the film, Anderson slightly undercuts some of the more shocking and morbid subject matter. “Budapest” marks a definite departure in tone in comparison to his other films. People are poisoned, shot and strangled in this story, all during the days leading to an occupation of a vague fascist military force (an obvious send-up of the Nazi party). The humor in the film is also a bit more adult than what’s normal for Anderson, especially in regards to details of Gustav’s sexual escapades with the hotel’s older women.
Despite this bleaker variant of Anderson’s typical whimsy, he still weaves in many of the heartfelt themes his stories are known for. Zero forms a pure and impractical romance with the apprentice of a local baker (Saoirse Ronan) and the two quickly decide to marry. Their unabashed love and naiveté is reminiscent of the star-crossed protagonists in “Moonrise Kingdom,” but is paired with a more realistic ending here. Also, the father-son relationship that blossoms between Zero and Gustav is typical of other Anderson films, like “Rushmore” and “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.”
For viewers who are new to Anderson, the film’s cast is tempting enough. To name them all would take too long, and would ruin half of the fun of seeing familiar faces pop up in a not so familiar wardrobe. In addition to the actors already mentioned, standouts in the film include Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel and a vicious Willem Dafoe.
All in all, Anderson seems to have topped himself with “Budapest.” Its innovative narrative, classic ensemble of characters and grandiose set pieces all indicate that he’s achieved a tighter grasp on his own aesthetic. Say what you may about his marginal style, but there is no doubt that he is one of the few directors working today that consistently produces content that is daring and at all times freshly unique.
Ryan Koehn covers film. Contact him at [email protected].