There’s a strange duality to the work of Wes Anderson. His films are never less than brilliantly funny and wildly entertaining stories of eccentric characters, captured in vivid shades of semi-unreality. On the other hand, they are each suffused with a sense of tragic melancholy, unfulfilled longing, and missed opportunities and regret. The most complete and perfect fusion of which is in his masterwork The Grand Budapest Hotel; a tale within a tale of a novel written by a travelling author, who dines one night with, Mr. Mustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the owner of the titular hotel.
The story, as recounted to the younger incarnation of the unnamed author (Jude Law), spins a wild and sweeping story of young Zero’s (Tony Revolori) formative days working as a Lobby Boy under the command of the concierge, Gustav H (Ralph Fiennes). The normal spin of which is thrown askew by the sudden death of long-term guest Madam D (Tilda Swinton) and her bickering family’s ensuing murderous quarrels over her will and estate. This leads to a series of escapades, chases, and crafty farcical hijinks, all while Zero tries to pursue the hand in marriage of his paramour, local patisserie baker Agatha (Saoirse Ronan).
As you would expect from a Wes Anderson film, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a rollercoaster of strange, larger than life caricatures cemented in the unreliability of memory. This works largely because the cast are having a whale of a time. Particularly Fiennes, who camps it up wonderfully as the perfumed concierge. Similarly, Revolori is amusingly caught between flummoxed confusion and decisive optimism, and offset with Ronan’s blunt pragmatism. Added to that the many appearances of regular Anderson favourites such as Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Jason Schwartzman, and dozens more in fleeting cameos only helps to weave the blanket of comfort around the audience further.
From a technical standpoint, the film is a visual masterpiece, seamlessly combining hyper-realised vividly coloured locations with miniature prop buildings and smatterings of visual effects. Anderson’s unique visual style, and the choice of symmetrical composition and the square 4:3 framing of the majority of the film, allows him to play with the visuals to create reveals and jokes. The camerawork also uses an uncommonly large amount of long tracking dolly shots and whip-pans to keep the frame visually in motion and allow the experience to travel further into absurdity.
It’s difficult to overstate the sheer delight that suffuses almost every second of this film. Even in its saddest moments, it manages a glimmer of wistful hope. But beyond that, the sheer opulence of what is onscreen is matched only by the relentless amount of humour. Stretching from the witty dialogue, through the physical japery and pratfalling, to the subtle but evident flourishes that never fail to elicit a chuckle. In short, the film is a true masterpiece, and a near-unmatched experience to watch.
As would be expected, this director-approved Criterion Collection release looks and sounds crisp as the original release; retaining every shade and colour but including some of the curious blurring and washout effects present from the original negative, but these are minor moments and hardly detract from the film. The wealth of behind the scenes material and the commentary featuring Anderson and Goldblum is also a warmly fascinating addition.
Available on Criterion Collection Blu-ray from Mon 22 Feb 2021