BY Gina Tumlos
The Grand Budapest Hotel is a tale within a tale within a tale — its breadth already worthy of note as this is triple the back story of any of Wes Anderson’s previous films. TGBH is told in a series of recollections: in the present, a young girl pays her respects to the author of its book, then in 1985 when the author talks about how he came about the story of one M. Gustave H., a story he himself learned from Mr. Moustafa, the owner of the Grand Budapest Hotel, whom the author met in 1968. Anderson and his cinematographer, Robert Yeoman, framed the sequences in different aspect ratios as a nod, perhaps, to the distinct cinematic style of each era.
The story of the Grand Budapest Hotel, a delicious pink structure nestled within the mountains of Zubrowka, actually begins in 1932 upon the arrival of the young Mr. Moustafa (Tony Revolori) at the esteemed hotel. Then called Zero, he meets the protagonist M. Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) who carries on his fastidious duties as both the head concierge and the hotel’s central attraction as far as wealthy older women are concerned. Among the ladies whom H. Gustave causes to swoon is Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), whose death sets the wheels turning in this comedy-romance-action-murder-mystery.
Ralph Fiennes is a revelation in his turn as the cultivated yet insatiable M. Gustave. Fiennes’s sophisticated style finds its new home in the pristine, oddball world of Anderson and Co. — everything from his spouts of impromptu poetry to the way the side of his mouth curls is perfectly timed. If anything else, Anderson gave Fiennes a most befitting introduction to the world of physical comedy. The movie is replete with cameos of familiar faces such as Owen Wilson and the khaki scouts from Moonrise Kingdom, with new additions such as Lea Seydoux and Mathieu Amalric. Bill Murray, of course, shows up as a key figure to M. Gustave’s escape, along with an almost unrecognizable Harvey Keitel.
Anderson again creates such palatable topography within the expanse of the hotel, the home of Madame D., the prison, and later on, the monastery. The wide shots of the interiors of these places are dizzyingly overwhelming, but Anderson handles his tight spaces just as deftly, especially when he crams his actors into small elevators, railcars, and even air vents.
For all its physicality, wit, and vibrant landscapes, TGBH is in its core a story of a remembering. The girl in the present harkens back to the author, while the author recalls his evening with Mr. Moustafa, and he, in turn, is left with the task of reminiscing the majesty of M. Gustave and what he then represented: the nostalgia for an ideal, the sorrows of history unfolding, and as M. Gustave once put it, the faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity.
TGBH contains the signature precision and choreography of any Wes Anderson film (see Jason Schwartzman double back just at the side of the frame) but this one, however, possesses a sense of genuine foreboding. The threats of fascism, disease, and war are real, and there is more blood and violence here than in any of the director’s earlier works. The hotel itself, as remembered by the author, embodies the lost luster and opulence of an era forgotten. Dilapidated, lonesome, and lost in time, the Grand Budapest Hotel is a relic of the past, kept by Mr. Moustafa only as a reminder of the love his life, who, along with M. Gustave, did not survive the horrors of the past century.
Wes Anderson is in his most adroit in this film, and if it’s any consolation to longstanding critics of his, TGBH is still too neat and painfully self-aware, but it manages to imbue the desolation that settles when one holds on to the past too tightly.
The Grand Budapest Hotel opens exclusively at Ayala Malls Cinemas on April 19, 2014.