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SXSW ’14 Review – “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

March 18, 2014

Screen shot 2014-03-18 at 7.47.08 PMWacky, zany, eccentric, goofy, oddball, corky, sheesh I’m running out of adjectives to describe Wes Anderson’s latest comic outing. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is probably one of the most outlandish comedies in Anderson’s Filmography, and that’s saying something. It’s not hard to pick out in a line up of movies regarding which is a Wes Anderson movie and which is not.

Anderson is one of the last few directors out there whose particular style has become a popular trademark amongst cinephiles. He remains adamant shooting on film, but more importantly he has caved in a done anything that the studio task him to do. He has his freedoms and it shows. His continuation of using the dolly, the symmetrical framing, the offbeat visual gags, Anderson takes everything he’s ever brought us and multiplied it by 25.

Set in four different time periods, beginning in the present, girl visits a memorial statue of a famous author; she holds her copy of his last book entitled The Grand Budapest Hotel. Flashback to 1985, where the Author (Tom Wilkinson) begins a lecture regarding his famous book. Now, in 1968, the young Author (Jude Law) finds himself in the dying hotel of the Grand Budapest, where he meets the hotels interesting old gentleman, and supposed owner of the hotel, Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham). Mr. Moustafa decides to treat the Author for dinner and tell him his story…

1932, a young lobby boy, by the name of Zero (Tony Revolori), comes under the strict command of the hotels famous concierge, Monsieur Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes). Gustave & Zero are suddenly entrapped into a vicious, bizarre caper, involving an old lover, Madame D (Tilda Swinton) leaving behind a famous painting for M. Gustave, meanwhile Madame D’s slippery/slimy son, Dmitri (Adrien Brody) will stop at nothing at claiming what’s his, even if it leads to murder. All set during the brink of imminent war, everyone and their lover is on pins and needles, and the wild ride is only getting started once Zero breaks Gustave out of prison, for being framed for the murder of Madame D.

When you describe the plot, it’s hard to imagine such a fast-paced, juggling plot could come from Wes Anderson, and yet at the same time, it’s not all surprising. He’s tackled wild tales before; a boy taking vengeance on the school/people who wronged him (“Rushmore”), a man seeking the blood of the animal who ate his friend (“The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”), a father faking cancer to be with his loved ones (“The Royal Tenenbaums”), and a boy & girl running away from adult society (“Moonrise Kingdom”).

As a comedy, it succeeds in the laughter department, the theatre certainly ate it up, but the movie manages to mix many genres into one glorious outcome; crime-caper, romance, surrealism, and war satire. There’s a running motif Anderson has in his films, his fascination with books. “Moonrise Kingdom”“The Royal Tenenbaums”“Rushmore”, all bring up the elements of novelization. In my opinion, he’s creating an anthology where the imagination can run rampant, much like how any reader would emote when reading a book for the first time. The motif of the book is important in this film, because essentially it opens with a girl reading the tale, within a tale, within a tale.

Screen shot 2014-03-18 at 7.47.19 PMOne thing that stuck with me, and I’m sure many will feel the same, was the change in aspect ratios between different time periods. The 4:3 ratio for the ’32 setting was noticeable, but you forget about it half way through, and that’s the point. Anderson is re-creating the cinematic look of the times it’s set in. When we cut between 1932 and 1968, we’re presented with an episodic widescreen aspect ratio, in itself; the tale Mr. Moustafa is sharing with us is quite episodic. And when we return to the present for one last moment, we’re given the traditional 16:9.

Before seeing this movie, I revisited many of the classic Anderson films, and coming off such a tame love story like “Moonrise Kingdom”, to pull a 180 on a story that so…well opposite than what we normally see in a director, it’s quite a treat to be presented with something new yet something familiar at the same time. This is also the most fast paced/violent film Wes has ever created, I won’t spoil much, but any cat lovers out there…well, heed thy warning.

GRADE: A-

Aaron Shore, is a contributing blogger for the film sites of Hudak on Hollywood & Midnight Reviews.

You can follow Aaron on Twitter @DoubleAAProd

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