I believe the most common adjective employed to describe the film-making style of Wes Anderson’s would be quirky, or idiosyncratic. And it’s all fine with me, but I personally would go a step further and call it for what it is – mildly autistic. It’s not necessarily an indictment on my part, but rather a simple observation. Now, I am definitely not a world-renowned expert in Wes Anderson’s work, as only recently I have started colouring in the blank spot that was his filmography, but I am most assuredly a fan of his approach toward comedy. Contrary to what you’d usually see on the big screen nowadays, Wes Anderson’s films are always intellectually stimulating, visually rich, stylistically sound, meticulously shot and executed, (maybe not quite laugh-out-loud) funny, but subversive and filled with unforgettable dialogue. In that, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” – Anderson’s newest creation – is no different and quite cohesively positions itself within his entire body of work.
Quite expectedly, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” takes place in a universe parallel to our own, but subtly altered so that challenging the entire story as being mythical or fairytale-like is both valid and invalid at the same time – a kind of Schrödinger’s cat, as it were. On top of that, I find summarizing the story rather troublesome due to its structure; it’s a story within a story within a story within a story, whereby a girl is reading a book about the author telling a story of (Jude Law) meeting the Hotel owner Zero Mustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who tells a story about how he started off as a bell boy in the 1930’s, when M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) ran the staff. We then embark on a string on adventures with this very concierge coming into possession of a very valuable painting (both by inheritance and theft at the same time), which puts him in the crosshairs of the not-so-rightful heir to the fortune Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and his thug Jopling (Willem Defoe). From there, the comedy ensues. Correction – the comedy is already in full swing at that point. And all of that is set in a beautiful snowy landscape of an imaginary country Zubrowka (which sounds oddly familiar for anybody of Polish descent), while a great war is brewing in the distance…
Wes Anderson has got to be real fun to be around. For one, that would explain how he is capable of herding a cast of stunning actors for each of his pictures and get away with giving the vast majority of them no more than 10 minutes of screen time. In case of “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, apart from the already mentioned, the impressive list includes Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Saoirse Ronan, Owen Wilson, a few faces I recognized from “The Life Aquatic…”, and of course Bill Murray… And they are all fantastic. I just can’t have enough, and even though I still have not seen a few of Anderson’s movies, I can boldly assume this guy cannot make a film I wouldn’t instantly fall in love with. There’s something about his style that speaks to me, but what I find the most amazing is his writing. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is (just as any of his other films) a literal goldmine of film quotes and subtle inside jokes, which warrants multiple and frequent re-watches. Not a single one-liner is a dud… None of the rants sound stale… And none of the quirky on-the-side peripheral little jokes feel superfluous. Everything about the storytelling and the comedy it elicits (and the entire film at the same time) is absolutely superb, which puts “The Grand Budapest Hotel” on par with my current Wes Anderson favourite – “Rushmore”.
The more I get into Anderson’s work, the more I notice and understand his stylistic choices. Quite seriously, this guy must live in paranoid fear of long-focus lenses and/or wide apertures, which makes all his films looks weirdly special. I bet that in his perfect world, he would shoot every single take with fish-eye lenses, so that he could cram more stuff into the scenes and make every corner of the frame look comedic independently of the actual story.
In addition, I also adore how through clever camera work and meticulous staging in “The Grand Budapest Hotel” together with his other films, Wes Anderson makes the action feel static and kinetic at the same time. Even though it might not look that way at times, there’s a lot of stuff happening. He would shoot it, as if it was a Monthy Python animation, or a live-action diorama. If you look close enough, you’d notice that the characters on the screen are always front and centre and most of the movement is shown through wheeling the camera along with the actors so that they remain in the middle of the frame. That also extends to the staging of every frame in a very symmetrical fashion, which makes me think Anderson is some sort of a savant, who’d always randomly decide to build the scenes in perfect alignment and then throw in a bloody orca in the background, or something equally as ridiculous… just because he can.
I imagine Anderson walking on the sets, counting his steps up to seven and stopping scenes half-way through, because now he’d want the bell boy in the background to do something weird with his left eye. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is simply filled with that kind of little winks and nudges that made me want to buy another ticket and go back in for another run. I didn’t, but rest assured, the blu-ray for this film will receive a pounding comparable only to “Pulp Fiction”.
There is so much to be discovered in “The Grand Budapest Hotel” that one viewing is simply not enough. It goes for the comedy, the little peripheral things, and the film-making tidbits. For instance, I noticed the film was shot in three different aspect ratios that make it look odd and confusing, but incredibly consistent, whereby each different aspect ratio corresponds to a different layer of the story within a story within a story within a story. But that’s just a side-note. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a veritable smorgasbord of comedy, stylistic winks, occasional hilarious profanity, and some signature stop-motion animation, all of which makes this film an unforgettable experience. And it’s all beautifully shot (with a single wide-angle lens probably), produced, wrapped, and delivered to your brain cells in a truly magnificent manner. Brilliant!