Thursday, March 27, 2014

anderson's "the grand budapest hotel"

More a visualist than a filmmaker, Wes Anderson brings his limited cinematic perspective to new ambitious heights with "The Grand Budapest Hotel," a work that personifies the notion of style over substance.

We're in a world where mise-en-scène reigns.

An opening credit informs us that Anderson's film was "inspired by the works of Stefan Zweig," but the true inspiration here is the eye-popping, jaw-dropping production design of Adam Stockhausen, chiefly Stockahusen's execution of the titular retreat, a glorified doll house with an intricate floor plan and bright primary coloring, set in some vaguely European hillside hamlet in the 1930s. And all of it is supplemented by some masterly miniature work.  It's gorgeous but it hurts the eyes.

Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel vies with Ralph Fiennes over exactly who or what is the star of Anderson's film. (It's the hotel, hands-down.)

Fiennes is the central actor of Anderson's virtually all-male cast here, which is also rather jaw-dropping - and it's up to each individual viewer to determine whether that’s “jaw-dropping” in a good way.

Most of Anderson's eight films (one of which is an animation) have been male dominated, particularly "Bottle Rocket," "Rushmore" and "The Darjeeling Limited."  Yes, Gwyenth Paltrow and Cate Blanchett had roles in "The Royal Tennebaums" and "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," respectively, but not much to do.  Both films were about the guys. Frances McDormand was fairly unpleasant in "Moonrise Kingdom," as was Anjelica Huston in the three she made with Anderson. (Look them up.)

But Anderson's history did not prepare me for the male fantasia of "The Grand Budapest Hotel," which includes no fewer than 15 name-or-recognizable actors but no female characters of any consequence.  The invaluable Tilda Swinton does a fabulous cameo bit in the film's first 10 minutes or so, and hot-young-thing Léa Seydoux has a thankless walk-on as a hotel maid. Saoirse Ronan's role as a calmly young baker with a curious, wholly unnecessary birth mark across the right side of her face is this film's idea of a female lead, I guess, but it isn't much of a role.

The plot, such as it is, revolves around Fiennes' sleazy Monsieur Gustave, the hotel's resident concierge and would-be dandy who is possibly gay but definitely fey. He claims, with much misplaced pride, to have slept with all the decrepit old dowagers who are regular patrons of the Grand Budapest, although he comes across as the sort who would find sex much too messy.

Anyway, the Swinton character, who is dispatched early on, leaves M. Gustave a much-coveted painting titled "Boy with Apple," much to the chagrin of one of her protofascist relatives (Adrien Brody) who hires a thug with bad teeth (Willem Dafoe) to retrieve the painting and do away with M. Gustave, but not necessarily in that order. It's a fairly dreary storyline and, frankly, the film loses what little appeal it has with a long, lumbering interlude involving M. Gustav's stint in prison and its aftermath.

I really missed that hotel!

Oh, and along for the ride is M. Gustav's protégé, who is also the hotel's Lobby Boy, one Zero Moustafa, (Tony Revolori, who wears a penciled-in mustache and a pillbox hat with “Lobby Boy” embroidered on it), who is all too willing to be corrupted.

Like Anderson's previous film, "Moonrise Kingdom," this one is annoyingly fussy but without the charm of its predecessor.  I would like to think that he has reached his limit with "The Grand Budapest Hotel," but so long as lovelorn movie critics and film-festival denizens continue to fawn over every precious physical and visual detail, we can expect the next one to be More. Of. The. Same.

Note in Passing: The cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman abets Anderson's vision and ambition here by filming the story in three different aspects, matched up to the three time periods that the movie covers.

21 comments:

Samantha G said...

a disappointing movie with the exception of Tilda Swinton. When she dies, so does the film.

Rob said...

“Quirky,” “twee,” “cynical,” and “hip” are words that have been routinely applied to Anderson's work. You added a new one - "fussy." All these words accurately describe what he does and yet don't, if you know what I mean.

James K. said...

I'd add another: Stasis.

Unknown said...

Greetings, fellow W.A. detractors. I've another term for Anderson's product: tableau mourant. (Here's hoping that makes sense; apologies in advance to francophones.)

alosereffort said...

It's occurred to me that Anderson has become the "new" Tim Burton. Great visual appeal with a very ardent fan base, for whom the filmmaker can do no wrong, while the films themselves are not necessarily increasing in quality.

a.n. said...

I've watched Life Aquatic about 100 times, it really strikes a chord with me (maybe it's the mid life crisis theme, I'm almost 50) and I've enjoyed all of W.A.'s other offerings to an extent, especially Rushmore. But this movie left me feeling rather empty and flat. Too much style, not enough heart. I don't get the great reviews.

Alex said...

I really liked Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, and Royal Tennenbaums, but after that, Anderson’s films have left me cold, especially Zissou and Darjeeling. I know Owen Wilson made a huge contribution to the earlier films and less so recently. Perhaps Wilson had a humanizing effect on his work.

joe baltake said...

Alex- That's an interesting observation. Makes a lot of sense. Also, as Anderson has evolved, he's seemingly become more and more obsessed with style. His movies have always been visually attractive,starting with "Bottle Rocket." Only now "the look" is all that seems to interest him.

David R. said...

Having a soft spot for Ruritanian operettas and a nostalgia for Metternich's Mitteleuropa I liked this film.

The gestalt of "Grand Budapest" may have been best described by Churchill, who said the greatest tragedy to come out of Versailles was the dissolution of the Austrian Empire (gratis the Grand Naif, Woodrow Wilson). A confection of a state like Zubrowka lost its collective security while "the German Reich remained largely intact and locally overwhelming". Cloud cookoo land only the wolves are at the gate.

I'm hot and cold on Anderson. Like Woody Allen, his movies all seem to be permutations of each other. But this observation speaks to both his and Allen's greatest strength: they have a sensibility, which necessarily puts their work in a different league then all the other junk coming out of Hollywood. There's no product-placement, unless Mendl's is planning to open-up on Rodeo Drive.

True Anderson's work is male dominated, but what's unique about it is that it's also literate. 'Literate' movies have traditionally been 'chick-flicks' in the best sense, such as Davis' great dramas for Warner's. Male movies are supposed to be 'action', but 'Budapest' has something of the Lubitsch Touch -- perhaps consciously so as Lubitsch was a friend of Stefan Zweig's. And of course the name 'Budapest' also evokes Ferenc Molnar.

The other source material which (no critic seems to have mentioned) is "Duck Soup". Heidy Heidy ho!

joe baltake said...

Love your take on the film, David! It might be the best review of "The Grand Budapest Hotel" that I've read so far, hands-down. You saw in this film what every other critic failed to see - including me - and your expression of your observations is lean and terse. Thank you for sharing.

Claire Cote said...

To maintain any sort of credibility here you have got to get your facts straight first and foremost, no matter how incidental they may seem. Or did you purposefully "forget" the names of W.A.'s films to perpetuate your distaste for the man/his movies?! (Namely, The Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom.) C'mon.

joe baltake said...

Yikes! Thanks, Claire. The heads-up is much appreciated and corrections have been noted and made. This only goes to illustrate how much I need an editor, even though I am so blissed-out to be free of newsroom interference. Obviously, I'm a little too blissed-out. BTW, I don't dislike the man or his films; I'm just a little weary of Anderson's recent schtick. As a die-hard Woody Allen fan might say,"I prefer his earlier work." Thanks again.

Sylvia said...

I feel a deep connection to his work and forever wishe that it could be shed of that facile label ”quirky” that Rob mentions.

Lisa said...

I found that the unacknowledged violence was very dissonant with the twee pastel story. It is hard to keep track of all the murders that take place in this film - poisoned, stabbed, beheaded, strangled, shot, etc. Norton's character doesn't even blink at a severed head thrust into his face. I'm not a wussy when it comes to violence, but I felt that none of the characters reacting to some pretty grizzly stuff very unsettling and took me right out of the fairly run of the mill, yet pretty, plot.

Adrian said...

Anderson I like, but I must admit that his work is more fascinating for its stylization than anything else.

Taylor said...

Valid points, but I think perhaps your expectations were wrong going in. I didn't have any of those, except that I like hotels and Europe.

This movie was a farce, reminding me of Pink Panther. Would you write a negative review of a Pink Panther movie or Duck Soup? No, it is a comedy and very enjoyable. On that level, this was a 5 star movie for me. Analyzing it as an art film might be a mistake, whether that was intended by Anderson or not. It was a 'fun' movie to watch. With a more contemporary sense of humor.

joe baltake said...

Actually, Taylor, I'm not a huge fan of Edwards' "Pink Panther" comedies or the Marx Bros. So that might explain my (unexpected) resistance to this film. Unlike you, I didn't find it "fun." But then, we're different people, right?

kb said...

A lot of intelligent comments above. Like one commentator, I find The Life Aquatic Anderson's most substantive film, and Moonrise Kingdom is very good because the hermetically-sealed world it creates fits the content--blossoming adolescent sexuality.

Grand Budapest, like the Darjeeling Limited, is a wildly narcissistic failure of a film that is politically-speaking rather abhorrent. It's not just that this is totally male universe, it's that it is a misogynistic, paternalistic, neo-colonialist universe. Is it any wonder that the film is steeped in fin de siecle Vienna? It was one of the most misogynistic societies on record. It wouldn't have surprised me if one of the characters in Grand Budapest was reading Otto Weininger, quite frankly.

Hammer Slammer said...

KB, did you miss the fact that the main bad guys are fascist, homophobic, bourgeois blowhards?

kb said...

So what you are saying, Hammer Slammer, is that we are to forgive Anderson his imperial nostalgia because his film relies on the reductio ad Hitlerum fallacy? Throw in some cardboard cutout totalitarian characters to buttress the noblesse oblige and those crafty enough to fake their way into the real role of the benevolent elite (Monsieur Gustave). How grand. Following such logic, we could defend the Bush Administration to save Colin Powell's reputation.

As I said, the film is quite aesthetically and formally formidable...but it's content boils down to a imperialist nostalgia, misogyny, and the Wes Anderson brand. Sorry, fans.

Albert said...

I like how this talked about the movie and not just the cast.