- One of the great stylists and auteurs working has given us a prodigious masterpiece and achieved his full and unique vision (not to mention a statement on the impact of storytelling, art, and the loss of virtue).
- The first thing of note is the twinning of the story within a story within a story nesting dolls and the changing aspect ratios. Wes uses the device of honoring a storyteller (here by Tom Wilkinson and then in a younger version as Jude Law) to ruminate on the impact of art— I love it. He also connects the aspect ratios with the various time periods (and what would be used in the time of the filming)- the late 60’s is a flatted wide cinemascope inspired ratio and the 30’s is a boxier frame. The 80’s is different still I believe. It’s not empty—it’s attention to detail and therefore, very befitting of Wes’ style
- Certainly influenced by Lubitsch—– it has his refined touch—specifically to be or not to be
- It’s whimsical, hilarious, and fun—but there’s a melancholic undertone for sure
- It has Wes’ mentor/mentee/father figure
- Chapter breaks
- A dead animal (here a cat)
- Like Soderbergh and Fincher (though less) he uses lighting as part of the mise-en-scene
- It’s loaded in pinks (the hotel), red (the elevator) and purple (uniforms). Beautiful. I love the late 60’s burnt orange of the hotel as well
- There’s inspiration by von Stroheim- in fact- the arresting officer in the train initially (interrupted and saved by Edward Norton) looks like a 30 year old Von Stroheim and this can’t be accidental
- 99 minutes and nothing wasted
- 2 I think Zooms like all his work—ditto for an Iris-in
- It has something to say on the loss of civilization—or polite (and he ties refinement and the “code” here of like discretion in) behavior vs barbarism—I picked up that Fiennes character is constantly helped by people he’s treated well—civilized. He’s helped by Norton (knows him from him being kind in the past), guy in prison who he shares food with, etc— this dichotomy is depicted clearly in the black and white sequence
- Shot with his trademark symmetry and right angles
- The stunning close-up merry-go-round lighting background shot of Ronan
- This is description more than evaluation—but it’s the strongest plot propulsion of his oeuvre. There’s so much movement forward here
- A highlight for me here with the third watch is the chase and death of Jeff Goldbloom’s character through the museum. Wes, just for fun, has Dafoe chase him through a gorgeous museum. It’s knockout moment for cinematic mise-en-scene
- I think, like Nolan, Wes bothers some critics for not being improvisational and open-ended—there’s never any ambiguity in Wes’ work and they think art should be that way—he shares this with Nolan actually—he’s exacting— he’s not alone here- Kubrick, Htichcock and others were the same way- so these two are in great company historically
- The finale act gets very action and chase heavy like moonrise. I guess in general I like the introduction and laying out of the worlds in these films to the long action sequences—
- A Masterpiece
The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of those films I’ve had the hardest time writing about, simply because I love it so much. So, here it goes.
I’ll start off with the cinematic references. As in all of Wes Anderson’s films, their strongest element is found where the mise en scene meets colour. It’s abundantly clear, be it for the symmetry and meticulousness, be it for the 90° shots, that the Grand Budapest is, more so than most of his films, in the vein of Ozu’s work. His mise en scene here, in all its detail, is close enough to rival Ozu (even though Ozu’s use of obstruction is unparalleled, and singular in film history). The dedication to Wes’ (enriched) colour palette here reminds one of Kieslowski or Cries and Whispers, though obviously Wes is much more playful and indulges in a variety of choices. I don’t think he is shy about the influence of the two great French masters: we have the tone, colour preferences, whip pans, ironic distance and deadpan delivery of Godard, whereas Truffaut’s pace, style and trademark sensitivity are also apparent. The Grand Budapest Hotel also exhibits a few other Wes traits, less apparent in some of his other works – here we notice the sharp social awareness (albeit not to that degree) of Altman and Renoir, and, may I add, aptitude for handling an ensemble. Idiosyncratic to a fault, it’s a true comedy of errors, ingrained with such wit and an abashedly unique sense of humour. However, Wes Anderson’s style is not just a melange of influences and references. It is all filtered through his own idiosyncratic humour, his precise lightness of touch, whimsy, wit and sense of melancholy, creative and original images, attention to detail, careful mise en scene – it is a unique vision.
Story-wise, the Grand Budapest is essentially embedded narrative overdrive – the story of an art heist in the 30’s, as narrated by then lobby boy to a writer in the 60’s, as written by him in a memoir 30 or so years later, as read by a young girl in the present next to his memoriam. Because why wouldn’t it be? Impending war and the rise of fascism being ignored by the upper class is an all too familiar tale (somewhat Renoir as well). It is precisely this ignorance that sets the story’s backdrop and broader implications. The enthralling narrative, its clear attachment to certain inanimate things of great value (boy with apple, the hotel), its misunderstandings, and the undercurrents of melancholy also remind me of Ophüls’ the Earrings of Madame De…, and it is my impression that it’s one of Wes’ own favourites. The influence is apparent in all of his work, but I don’t think he has ever excelled in the comedy of errors subgenre as much as in the case of the Grand Budapest. Aside from its structure and pace, this is screenwriting at its finest. Narrative perfection, everything comes together brilliantly and the film achieves closure in a typically bittersweet way. The storyline may appear messy, but Wes never loses its thread and stays true to its heart from beginning to end.
Stylistically, and as you noted, the aspect ratio shifts along with the era and is probably reflective of each period’s cinematic trends. But I think it’s time to give colour it’s due: we have a vibrant (not so pastel) colour palette – bright reds, mustard yellows, ultramarines, piggy pinks, beautiful deep (and deeply blueish) purples, 60’s hipster oranges, azures, vermilions, crimsons, ambers, burgundy reds – it’s a fest. The society of crossed keys chapter is there MERELY as an opportunity for Wes to show off his aptitude for colour and mise en scene and it’s just absolutely brilliant. The murder sequence in the museum is an astounding showcase of editing, pace, atmosphere, mise en scene, camera movement. In this particular case, Wes is somewhat tightrope walking, considering the difficulty in successfully balancing comedy with suspense, all the while maintaining a highly idiosyncratic take and using a variety of filmmaking techniques and set piece choices. However, he manages to pull it off and it is simply tonal and cinematic perfection. Practically every shot in the film is one of particular interest – there is no throwaway frame here, everything is symmetrical, designed with care and attention to detail. Wes and his cinematographer Robert Yeoman capture snowy Görlitz by night beautifully.
Talking of idiosyncrasies, we have oil paintings, old timely telephones, maps, staircases, weirdly civilised shoot outs, tiny automobiles, many tracking shots (and I mean, many), spontaneous running, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody – yes, this is a Wes Anderson film. I didn’t see Anjelica Huston and for a second I thought, oh wait, but then I noticed Bill Murray’s extensive cameo and reassured myself.
Not to overlook the formal perfection with chapter breaks, meticulously stylised – as in The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover – and that is not the only similarity between the two highly artful, tonally coherent, unabashedly colourful, heavily idiosyncratic auteur driven masterpieces.
And, oh Alexandre Desplat. The Grand Budapest is such a capital ‘M’ masterpiece, his contribution often goes unheralded. His score is a triumph – Oscar winner – references to European folk music, influences from French, russian, German, Serbian, Greek and Turkish folklore music. It’s all so very, playfully Balkan. Also reminiscent of the music of Georges Delereu, and of course Yann Tiersen’s Amélie.
All characters are written with great care and understanding. On this front, the film echoes Truffaut: their quirks, idiosyncrasies, habits, preferences, posture, sense of style. Everything is so meticulous and accomplished. From air de panache, to Agatha’s birth mark, to the sister’s wooden leg, to Deputy Kovacs’ meetings with the hotel manager, to Zero’s hand drawn moustache, to the Un Taxis sisters looking like Sean Penn in ‘This Must Be the Place’, to Madame D’s nail polish, to romantic poetry – it’s through these details and whims that the film acquires its texture and charm. It is simply such an endearing piece of cinema.
As Zero and Monsieur Gustave travel and the backdrop of the events changes, it feels like entering a slightly different world, all in the same Wes Anderson universe – the Grand Budapest, the un taxis house, the museum, prison etc., they’re all little vignettes pieced together to create narrative, tonal, stylistic and cinematic brilliance. This is the epitome of world-building, and if that was the primary metric for assessing directors, Wes would be amongst the crème de la crème in film history (not that he low key isn’t already). The roots of the Grand Budapest are in the Stefan Sweig stories, which makes perfect sense. If he were a talented filmmaker, the Grand Budapest is precisely the film he’d make.
All that aside, Wes’ film speaks volumes about themes that appear a small part of its rich narrative – fascism, violence, cruelty and how they manifest themselves in our lives (how does the police treat an immigrant), loss of civilisation, how do we preserve humanity ourselves, in our own daily lives. More than anything it calls for kindness: Agatha hides tools for Gudstave’s escape in Mendl’s biscuits. They are so beautiful and carefully made, the guard does not cut them in half to check them for incoming weapons or tools, and hence they manage to escape. In the same vein, Gustave is helped by people he has previously helped. There is this persistent idea throughout that kindness and love generates kindness and love. The film’s message transcends its own brilliance. Ever avoiding preaching and Hollywood-esque indoctrination, it is touching, unmistakably humane, wise and elegant in making a statement and igniting a sort of re-evaluation of principles – how can we not see cruelty before us? How can we accept it? When was the last time we were kind to someone?
Monsieur Gustave is one of cinema’s finest creations, and perhaps Wes’ greatest character. His genius is in how we know him, and yet we know so little about him. Fastidious, particular, precise, vain, demanding, exacting. And, at the very same time, sweet, truly and deeply kind, understanding, accepting and caring. Caring most of all, and if there ever was a driving force behind his role and actions, a principle that guided all of his decisions, that is his deeply rooted sense of how one takes care of another. He’s someone we almost instinctively know, and we see so little of. His purpose is not to serve but to care, to give. There is a subtle tragedy to Gustave, we feel the vacancy of his life, his melancholy, his traumatic past. He IS the Grand Budapest, he even apologises on its behalf. If we’re not talking of a hotel, but of an institution, it is because of him. And, for better or for worse, he has had older.
Ralph Fiennes delivers here what is by all standards a perfect performance. The kind of technically stunning, classical British theatre performance you’d expect. Perfect diction, posture, body language, careful intonation, presence. No line is wasted. The way he carries himself and Wes Anderson’s words is magnificent. He swears and it suddenly sounds like the most innocent and polite expression of anger one has ever come across. He oozes refinement, doesn’t miss a bit and is outrageously funny. And yet there it is – the all too well known melancholy. It is found in simple, tiny little moments of honesty and sensitivity, when Gustave allows himself to feel and not do. It adds such depth to Fiennes’ work and he’s never been lovelier than in the Grand Budapest.
“There are still faint glimmers of civilisation left in this barbaric slaughterhouse once known as humanity” – astounding, reflective of the film’s themes, and perfectly quotable for those times when someone gives you their place in the supermarket cashier queue. Needless to say, this is something of a comfort film of mine at this point. I must have seen it about ten times. It is worth wondering, why that is so (and I’ve noticed many people feel the same way). Perhaps it’s due to the sheer magic of Wes’ world. It’s simply so wonderful, we tend to forget how unbearably sad it is all the same – “we were happy here for a little while”, “he maintained the illusion with fabulous grace”, “it was an enchanting old ruin, but I never saw it again”. By all standards, the Grand Budapest is devastating, and, yet, we keep coming back to it, just so we can get a sip of that charm and whimsy, some of Wes Anderson’s magic, and stay in his world just for a little while longer. This film is so European, it is practically the cinematic equivalent of Viennese pastry.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is something of a fairytale. And, like all fairytales, in its colourful jouissance, it says a great deal about reality, the people that inhabit it and its underlying tragedies. It’s too soon to tell, but the Grand Budapest is special. It truly is. It’s one of the most wonderful, lovely, charming films ever made, and I’m sure that within a span of 50 or so years it will be entering the TSPDT top 100. And that’s all folks.
Congratulations to Georg for writing the new all-time greatest comment ever on The Cinema Archives.
@Georg! I loved every sentence but “bright reds, mustard yellows, ultramarines, piggy pinks, beautiful deep (and deeply blueish) purples, 60’s hipster oranges, azures, vermilions, crimsons, ambers, burgundy reds – it’s a fest.”– well done. So how about we move your comment to the body of this page and move my writing to the comments section? It feels inappropriate otherwise. haha.
@Drake – thank you so much! In listing the colours I noticed, those painting lessons I took as a kid somehow helped.
Whoa!!!! Should we campaign for Georgie bro to win a Pulitzer Prize in criticism writing.
@Georg Great piece about great movie. I agree with @Graham that it’s a Masterpice level comment -haha))
@Graham and @Mad Mike – thank you very much! I feel rather flattered. Thanks not only for the kind words but also for reading it, haha. It is quite an extensive comment.
I saw this movie for the first time and I think Ralph Fiennes gives the best comedy performance ever. It should not be overlooked just because it’s a comedy performance. It is as great as any great dramatic performance just it’s a comedy.
@Ric- Sorry for jumping in but I think I have to agree. I’ve seen grand Budapest about 15 or so times and I’ve admired Fiennes more and more each time. Talking of all time great comedic performances, the list is long. From works of Chaplin & Masina to even Nicolson, Coen characters & Michael gambon as the thief. But two that are right on top of my head are (although both of them are not pure comedies) Thewlis in Naked and Stuhlbarg in A Serious Man. They are worthy companions of Fiennes I guess.
I have not seen naked but I’ve seen a serious man- masterpiece.
Interesting article, I have trying to gain more understanding on how colors are used
[…] The Grand Budapest Hotel – W. Anderson […]