There are few directors whose films I wait with excitement. One of them is Wes Anderson. I don’t know where exactly that fascination started, but ever since “Rushmore” to “Moonrise Kingdom” which I consider as a masterpiece, I was filled with excitement every time Wes announced his new movie. Hollywood always like wit and charm in its movies, and if there’s a director out there today, which continues the tradition of Billy Wilder for example, that’s definitely Wes Anderson.
His latest, Oscar nominated, movie “Grand Hotel Budapest” is an homage to the mentioned methods. All his scenarios are intriguing, fast and comical, filled with artifice and imagination. The story of “Grand Hotel Budapest” is because of that set in the imaginary state of Zubrowka fictional Eastern European country (which shares the name with a particular sort of Polish vodka). When I first saw the movie I knew that some scenes are familiar to me from somewhere and I couldn’t quite guess where from. When I was finishing the first paragraph of this text, it occurred to me that Hotel Budapest is indeed very similar to the hotel in “Ninotchka” (1939.). I can’t remember the name of that hotel, but I remember the director very well. Ernst Lubitsch is maybe the one to whom Anderson made an homage to this film. I can’t be sure of it, but if that’s true, that’s one more Easter egg I didn’t quite notice when I watched the film. However, in continuance to Lubitsch/Wilder tradition Wes Anderson made his most artificial movie to date. That’s appropriate since movie begins with an author (Tom Wilkinson) reminiscing about the subject of imagination and inspiration. Real life, to summarize, is the best inspiration for all stories and the one he’s prepared to tell us is situated in “Grand Hotel Budapest” at the brink of World War Two.
Here I will stop for a second. All Anderson’s films are about unusual people defying very strict set of rules. We can see that in “Rushmore” (schools), we can see it in “Moonrise Kingdom” (scouts); here we have a character out of time also comically named Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) whose French manners are contradicted with Nazi soldiers (led by Edward Norton), greed (Adrien Brody as Dmitri) and its aids (William Dafoe, Mathieu Amalric). Gustave is an atavism of another time, he belongs to twenties or even 19th century and all that surrounds him are nasty ideologies, greedy competitors and glimpses of exploitation.
He will find his reassurance in his sidekick Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) in whom he saw images of himself when he was young. He needs to complete his training. He will be his friend and in that friendship he will try to find hope and a reason to continue his, sometimes quixotic fight. When his “lady of admiration” Madam D (Tilda Swinton) dies, Gustave will find himself in a tough situation about one priceless painting. He wants to keep that painting, but in his way are, well, almost everybody. He will get help from the only source he can: Moustafa lobby boy. His love for his work is immense, but his loving Hotel Budapest is destined to be the stage of film’s greatest conflict. Parallel timelines are present in the movie and we can see the hotel in the 1920s, 1930s and 1960s. In every timeline hotel seems to lack another part of its original soul. Same soul that was closely connected to Gustave. Anderson is master of unusual characters and locations in the real settings, here we have Gustave, Moustafa and the hotel itself as representatives of unusual and WW2, the Nazis and greed as representatives of contemporary, ordinary things. Wes Anderson is truly a grown-up child and we can see that in his stories, costumes and settings, we can see that in the way he operates the camera and the actors but that childlike soul often tackle very serious themes. That was the case in “Moonrise Kingdom” and that’s the case here. Anderson shifts from the comical moments to the sad ones in the blink of an eye and at the end of the film, when Zero is reminiscing his last moments of love and action with both his love and his mentor I felt so strongly for him that the ending of otherwise comical and campy movie had a very bleak note to me.
In spite of all this I liked “Moonrise Kingdom” more than “Grand Hotel Budapest” and that probably influenced my final impression. I can’t explain why that was important, but something was missing here, something that was beautifully done in “Moonrise Kingdom”. Maybe all comic moments went too far, maybe campy style went over the border and made the story less relevant I’m not entirely sure. Nomination of this movie for “Oscar”, especially in so many categories was a surprise for me. Somehow, it was released so long ago that when Oscar season came I forgot it as one of possible contenders.
The best thing about writing this review was that I thought about it again in detail, I reviewed few scenes again in my head. That particular moment in which high comical pitch meets bleak down-note was exquisite. That’s difficult for storyteller to make it work. I must honor that. Wes Anderson has truly made a great movie (again) and his inner child will probably be happy with all the praises he receives. There’s nobody in Hollywood quite like him. With respect to the legends as Lubitsch and Wilder, he’s their legitimate successor. I don’t think “Grand Hotel Budapest” will win any relevant “Oscar” (Best Film, Direction) but in all other categories it will be a very strong competitor. Wonderful, funny movie with dramatic climax and surprise when you least expecting it.