Sunday, February 22, 2015
The Grand Budapest Hotel
But I'm still not sure of my response to the movie. Did I like it? Kind of. There are parts I found kind of funny, parts I found kind of moving, parts I think are kind of sad, and parts I think are kind of beautiful.
The first step to grasping, or at least enjoying, a Wes Anderson movie is accepting the world he has created. His movies are set in places that have a distinct artifice about them, a slightly askew sense of reality. Human beings inhabit them, and they have the same motivations that drive us - lust, greed, revenge, etc. - but they don't behave in a wholly plausible manner. Everyone and everything feels unorthodox. It's very stylish and very, very deadpan.
In the case of The Grand Budapest Hotel, it's important to remember we're not seeing a "straight" depiction of the story; it's a depiction of an interpretation of a narrative of a memory. The movie begins in the present with a teenage girl approaching the monument of a famous, never named writer, and she carries a copy of the writer's memoir. As she reads it, the film jumps to the author, played by Tom Wilkinson, at his desk in 1985 where he begins narrating the book. From there, it moves on and shows the author in his youth, played by Jude Law, in 1968 as he visits the Grand Budapest Hotel, located in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka. There, he meets the owner of the hotel, Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who tells him how he came to the hotel and how he came to own it. The bulk of the film is set in 1932, visualizing the story of how a young Zero (Tony Revolori) as arrives at the hotel and begins working as a bellboy for Monsieur Gustave H. (Fiennes), the debonair concierge.
The film is colorful and not just because of it's characters and plot; the look of the film is filled with pink walls, purple uniforms, red elevators, and bright yellow lights. Exterior shots of the hotel itself look like a pastel painting. The world is one of artifice. Anderson, as in his other movie, uses a lot of closeups of his characters speaking directly ahead, and even the longer shots, whether of the front desk of the hotel or a group of prisoners plotting or Gustave and Zero sitting in a train car, are staged in head on shots, creating an often symmetrical, boxed-in feeling, like you're looking inside the room of a dollhouse.
The effort and craft that went into The Grand Budapest Hotel is easy to admire. Some of the imagery is unforgettable, and I smiled a lot while watching the movie, but I'm not in love with it. There are a lot of small laughs but few big ones. The detached, deadpan tone is amusing and unique, but it also means it's hard for me to be invested in what happens. Hardly anyone in the movie seems particularly concerned by anything, so why should I be?