The Grand Budapest Hotel
(Wes Anderson, 2014)
Critics of Wes Anderson will often accuse his movies of being vapid, soulless, stylistic exercises, lacking in any kind of meaning beyond the by now unmistakable imagery he crafts so sublimely on screen.
I think the real issue is that because he makes absolutely no attempts to ever lecture his audience, because the issues he wants to discuss and explore are up there on the screen woven into the action, people are too often too stupid to see the depth and ideas right in front of their eyes without having somebody explain it to them via monologue or voiceover.
The Grand Budapest Hotel has all the Anderson trademarks, the relatively still camera, the loaded frame, filled with things that are actually there. The reliance upon stop motion animation and miniatures for action scenes rather than computer generated overload, and the players of the ever growing Anderson troupe - Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, and a whole host of others, some of whom spend literally a few seconds on screen, but all of whom make it count.
The story, also in true Anderson style is about one thing, while exploring something else entirely. The main narrative is an almost insane overload of plotting, of characters, of twists, it’s never hard to follow, but it is patently absurd, the creation of a man who knows it’s little more than window dressing. Yet, it’s so handsomely staged, so snappily edited, so beautifully shot, and so wonderfully acted (I don’t know that Ralph Fiennes has ever been more loose limbed on screen, recalling the Barrymore’s, Grant’s, Stewart’s, and Powell’s of days gone by. He plays the sophisticated mask atop the loutish cad in supremely hilarious fashion) that if you want to enjoy it as a madcap, slapstick romp, it works entirely on that simplest of levels.
Yet as with all Wes Anderson films there is something lurking beneath the surface, and here that something is infinitely darker than it’s ever been before. It is a testament to the power of movies, to finding lightness in the dark, to treat evil with earned irreverence, a documenting of human immorality, and a chronicling of death, of a way of life, of a time and a place, a world that as the movie puts it was old before we got here, that finally succumbs to that ‘barbaric slaughterhouse we know as humanity’. There’s a plethora of ways in which the movie can be read, its influences are varied, both cinematic, and literary, and it stands up to all manner of exploration. That this deep and layered piece of work functions as a breezy 100 minute farce is testament to the genius who created it. A man who knows the many ways in which the movies work, and still clings boldly to the power of subtlety.