‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ Review: In praise of the old world

Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel opens with a girl paying homage to the writer of the book she is carrying, by visiting his bust in the center of a park in his hometown. By the looks of all the trinkets on the marker, the park, along with the prized author’s bust, has become quite a tourist attraction for a country that seems to have seen better years.

The girl proceeds to read her book, with Anderson quickly taking his audience away from the park and into the office of the novelist (played by Tom Wilkinson), explaining the intricacies of his job. While in the middle of his lecture, a little boy interrupts him by threatening to shoot him with a toy gun. He momentarily stops his lecture to threaten the boy, and continues his story. 

The characters

The novelist, now 30 years younger (played by Jude Law), is a resident of the Grand Budapest Hotel, the once luxurious home of baronesses and countesses. The hotel is just a shadow of its former glory, with its empty halls being adorned by lackluster guests and snooping employees.

The novelist has taken a fancy to the hotel’s reclusive owner, Zero Moustafa (played by F. Murray Abraham). The owner has also taken a fancy to the wandering novelist. Over dinner, the wealthy owner recounts how the hotel came to be part of his dearest possessions.

The hotel owner’s story first takes place inside the palatial room of Madame D. (played by an indistinguishable Tilda Swinton), a very wealthy aristocrat who is about to leave the confines of the hotel. The hotel’s concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes, who aptly wears an exterior of propriety with a hint of naughtiness), along with an army of the hotel’s finest employees, is with her, comforting her before her trip.

Upon her departure, Gustave notices the young Zero Moustafa (a delightful Tony Revolori who counters Fiennes’ onscreen confidence with impish awkwardness) wearing the hat of lobby boy. Gustave starts to mentor the wide-eyed penniless immigrant, let him tag along in everything he does, including all the misadventures that have yet to happen as a result of Madame D.’s untimely flight from the Grand Budapest Hotel.

Reminiscence 

Anderson has always occupied his films with a sense of reminiscence, of harking back to days better than the present. His very distinct visual style, with its pleasing mixture of a near-absence of depth and curiously symmetrical framing, enunciates the fantasy out of the many realities he is communicating. In a way, Anderson plays a modern and ingenious fabulist, prescribing harsh truths within cleverly told stories.

The Grand Budapest Hotel has all the ingredients of an escapist fairy tale. It is set in a fictitious country dressed in alpine mountains and features courteous upper-class folks. Its main story has an orphan finding his one true love while dodging psychotic villains. It is one heck of a caper, featuring a delirious prison break, a hilarious ski chase, and a mystery to keep things moving in the middle.

However, underneath all the wily artifices of the film, echoes a very palpable sadness. Its structure of being a story within a story within many more stories, articulates how far back in history this tale of stark camaraderie and veritable honor takes place. Its allusion to the Great War that shook Europe speaks of a passing of an era of noble dispositions, only to be replaced by noise and barbarism.

Stories told and retold 

Anderson, by abandoning the ease of the 1.37 aspect ratio that better suited his aesthetic idiosyncrasies, for the 4.3 aspect ratio that would obviously limit him but would seem to be more appropriate for Zero’s lengthy flashbacks, also gives due respect to the form of storytelling.

History has changed us, Anderson seems to be imparting. We have turned into a people who look upon the past to be reminded of how it is to be human. We travel great lengths to visit monuments to be imparted the virtues of honored heroes. We read novels from decades past to recall ages we were deprived of witnessing. We tell stories, and listen to stories being told, to perpetuate glorious pasts. Once that has passed, we struggle to live again, ignoring the noise, avoiding the violence, surviving.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is such an ode to the old world, and to those who have immortalized it in words and pictures. Sure, Anderson’s ideal of pre-war Europe is one laced in anachronistic liberties. However, absolute creation is not the intention here. It is his mere act of storytelling, adorned lovingly with his wild artistry, that punctuates that immense yearning for a world that we can only experience through stories told and retold. – Rappler.com

Oggs Cruz

 Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas’ 'Tirad Pass.' Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.