The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014): Wes Anderson’s bitter-sweet fable about solitude

The Grand Budapest Hotel is the latest offering from the American filmmaker Wes Anderson. Inspired by the writings of the 20th century Austrian novelist and playwright Stefan Zweig, The Grand Budapest Hotel premiered at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival, back in February 2014, where it won the Grand Jury Prize—the festival’s second most prestigious prize. While The Grand Budapest Hotel stars renowned English actor Ralph Fiennes in the lead role, it’s star-studded ensemble cast—mostly consisting of Anderson regulars—also includes the likes of F. Murray Abraham, Edward Norton, Jude Law, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Murray, Léa Seydoux, Mathieu Amalric and Owen Wilson. A unique blend of comedy, satire, and magic-realism, The Grand Budapest Hotel, as a work of cinematic art, cannot be deemed original in its totality, for it borrows heavily from such luminaries as Ernst Lubitsch, Jacques Tati, Alfred Hitchcock, and Stanley Kubrick, but, in its essence, it’s much more than a pastiche of sorts; vintage Wes Anderson’s creative genius.

While The Grand Budapest Hotel is a celebration of the little moments of joy in each of our lives, behind the façade of levity, it is a also warning and a reminder to the society at large that our world is at a constant danger from being taken over by the dark forces and that complacency and indifference are the things that we can least afford. But, first and foremost, it’s a tale of solitude and how human beings learn to cope up with it. The movie’s seemingly bizarre plot, one that’s generally associated with B-grade horror comedies, revolves around M. Gustave, the fastidious concierge of the Grand Budapest (a remote, mountainside hotel situated in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka on the farthest eastern boundary of Europe), and the devoted young lobby boy Zero Moustafa. Anderson’s playful film takes us back in time, ever so subtly, bringing us face-to-face with one of the darkest phases in modern history, the early 1930s, mocking and mourning the period that marked the beginning of the Holocaust in Europe.

Through The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson serves us with a piquant cocktail fizzing with the resplendence of the extremes: the sublime and the absurd, the dignified and the frivolous, the brutal and the tender, the worldly and the spiritual, and the ghastly and the pleasant. In M. Gustave, we get to see a man of dignity, honor and humility who is an expert in matters of propriety concerning the hospitality profession. He is fully committed to entertaining the needs of the hotel’s distinguished clientele as well as managing its staff. But, beneath his calm and composed patina underlies a reservoir of nervous energy that’s probably a result of his abject solitude which he tries to mitigate by finding solace in the company of the aging, affluent blonde women who frequently visit The Grand Budapest just to enjoy his amorous friendship. It’s as if by serving as a gigolo to these insecure, superficial, vain women, he has found a temporary cure to his own ancient ailment.

Ralph Fiennes plays the part of M. Gustave with scalpel-like precision, delicately embracing the nuances and subtleties of the complex caricature. In the view of this critic, Fiennes’ heart-wrenching performance in The Grand Budapest Hotel is second only to his tour de force portrayal of Amon Goeth in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993). In addition, a vast panoply of interesting characters is on display here: committed lovers, cold-blooded murders, adulterous dames, fiendish sons, devoted servants, honorable criminals, gregarious writers, unassuming attorneys, martinet proprietors, stoic immigrants, and more. While the acting is brilliant all around, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel are delightful to watch in their short but memorable roles. Another actor that deserves a special mention is the newcomer Tony Revolori impresses as young Zero Moustafa. Like any other Wes Anderson film, The Grand Budapest Hotel brilliantly balances the technical and the emotional elements. Robert Yeoman’s brilliant cinematography (reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s films) is well complemented by Alexandre Desplat’s uplifting background score. The movie’s pacing is brilliant thanks to Barney Pilling’s topnotch editing. Visually, the movie is nothing short of a spectacle.

Overall, The Grand Budapest Hotel is an important work of cinematic art that offers entertainment and food for thought in equal parts. As a powerful treatise on solitude and nihilism, the movie harks back to the motifs explored by Gabriel García Márquez in One Hundred Years a Solitude and Love in Time of Cholera. The Grand Budapest Hotel’s story-within-a-story narrative seems to work quite well and gives the movie the feel of a grandiose dream. The movie in itself may be nothing more than an illusion but it directs us towards a poignant reality that is impossible to avoid or overlook. The Grand Budapest Hotel has its share of incongruities and anachronisms but that doesn’t prevent the movie from weaving its magic on the viewers. These inconsistencies are a result of Wes Anderson’s artistic freedom, and, if anything, they only add to the movie’s overall appeal. This brings us to the all-important question: Is “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Wes Anderson’s best film till date? Well, perhaps, yes… but, frankly speaking, that’s for the time to decide. For the time being, it will be safe to say that it’s definitely his most accessible film yet. Wes Anderson fans would obviously devour this gem without having any second thoughts. For the uninitiated, it’s a great means to get acquainted with his oeuvre; once through, they can work backwards from there on. In the end, it would be safe to say that those who admire and appreciate topnotch international cinema wouldn’t be left untouched by the charm of The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Note: This article was originally published here