I pop my head up from my self-involved parapet to deliver this missive on a film now positively ancient (several weeks on release) in this fast track online universe. But seeing as Wes Anderson’s latest seems to be holding its own quite impressively within the soul deadening pseudo mall bar/food court environs of the modern commercial monolith that is the multiplex, it’s not quite auf wiedersehen for this delightful storybook elegy to civility, charm and escapology.
Anderson’s increasingly pronounced visual style has divided critics for the past decade or so and I would count myself among his admirers but can understand why general audiences would feel a certain distance and impatience with his fussy aesthetics. Often, the art direction and precise camera placement and movement seem to kill any sense of spontaneity and surprise within the frame, Anderson’s control of every element within his frame as obsessive and airtight as Stanley Kubrick at times; the beautifully detailed sets and props have equal if not more importance than the talented performers he is able to attract. Creative socialism at play or stylistic fastidiousness bordering on fascism?
I would prefer to think the former is true especially with the film addressing the creeping rise of fascism and its corrosive effect on civility, culture, humanism, imagination in the 1930’s within its alternative European universe known as Zubrowka which is an evocative blend of Eastern European and Germanic cultures pre World War II.
Amidst the Alps-esque mountains, towers the Grand Budapest Hotel, an ornate and majestic conceit suggesting a a storybook marriage of The Shining’s Overlook with the fading old world dreamscape of D.M. Thomas novel The White Hotel. Housing a menagerie of eccentric transients with colourful tales and haunted secrets, the hotel is presided over by the the imperious, suave and charming Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) the head concierge whose moral flexibility yet innate decency is a source of much of the films comedy and pathos.
Rather than detail the plot which is often a slog and chore both for the writer and reader and the plot here is merely window dressing to the window dressing so to speak, a necessary narrative motor for Anderson and his creative team to deliver many breathless, oft unexpected comic diversions, suffice to say that The Grand Budapest Hotel is a hugely entertaining literary fantasia with a typically brilliant lead performance by Mr Fiennes that combines off kilter comedy and unexpected melancholy that seems particular to Mr Anderson.