At the heart of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel is a virtuoso performance by Ralph Fiennes who fits perfectly into the elaborate sets and huge cast that Anderson assembles. For those who love his complicated confections it is a joy, and for others I wonder if it holds up as well. I was lucky to see it on a big screen to enjoy the details in a big old theatre which felt perfect. It strikes a perfect balance between humour and melancholy in a similar way to how he did it with Rushmore which is my other favourite Anderson films.
One of the things I often forget about The Grand Budapest Hotel is how elaborately constructed with different time frames. Structurally the film is like a set of matryoska dolls with times nested inside one another. It begins close to the present day, then goes back to 1985, then to 1968, and then to 1932 where the bulk of the story happens. It features the usual meticulous attention to detail with art direction and design, but this time it connected with me because of the story, based the work of Stefan Zweig, who told stories of Europe in the time around World War I.
The detailed construction of the film and the relationships between the characters is like the desert craved by many of the them, Mendl’s Courtesan au Chocolate (a more complicated Religieuse). The ingredients for the film are echoes of Anderson’s other films with the old European location providing the perfect backdrop for the international cast to engage in their intrigue. The author tells the story of how he met Zero, who tells his story of how he met Gustav H. and Zero’s great love, Agatha. Most of the characters are not too deep, but as the film jumps around between them, there is just enough detail to keep it interesting.
For me the true genius of the film is how it smuggles in emotion. It crept up on me and hit me as it did with Rushmore. It’s about people connecting in difficult times and finding happiness and pleasure no matter what the circumstance. It’s about how the stories we tell that keep the memories of people alive. Below the layers of art direction and sophisticated camera work it is about friendship and love. It’s great to see a filmmaker working at the peak of their power with everything balanced just right. The blending of the story and technique works well and it’s a joy to see a cast and crew that are clearly enjoying what they do.