Every great artist has a signature style or body of work that defines them. Like other great cineastes, Anderson has been approaching a masterwork such as The Grand Budapest Hotel for years. Life Aquatic, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom were all exercises, just previews and the tip of the quirky iceberg that is Anderson’s talent. Anderson’s whole life has been leading up to this moment, this triumphant feature and The Grand Budapest Hotel is easily the best thing he’s ever done; it’s a Wes Anderson film on steroids. He takes everything he’s learned from his small but highly successful projects and channeled them into this gargantuan, and exceptionally detailed work of art. It’s simply gorgeous.
Some will be compelled to call this a masterpiece and there’s no arguing that. People thought that Anderson might have eclipsed his previous works with Moonrise Kingdom but he’s taken his narrative “storybook” presentation to new levels. Not content to fall back on formulaic approaches or things that worked so well before this gives us more of everything we’ve come to love and expect in the Anderson cineverse. Viewed as a flashback within a flashback (thanks to the writings of Stefan Zweig which inspired the story), the heavy themes of the film are mostly kept just outside the periphery of Anderson’s lens, as the gorgeous set design lends itself to an enchanting and almost dreamlike atmosphere. The glorious and meticulously crafted production is his biggest to date. Aside from the unparalleled visual spectacle (that’s just teeming with his signature style as he channels a Kubrick level of concentration), Anderson handles the complex plot, the myriad of characters and, as always the brilliant scene transitions with ease.
In a way The Grand Budapest Hotel is a perfect cross-section of Anderson’s career as well as an evolution in his process – a fantastic leap forward that shows us that he worked out all his kinks and found his groove well beforehand. With the charm and style that has become his trademark, Wes Anderson concocts, cobbles and executes this ambitious feature which is easily the crown jewel in his shiny but admittedly off- kilter crown. It’s as artsy, sure, but also as decadent as it is morbidly hilarious.
The themes are much more mature and sophisticated, but one of the cuter, although less prominent is the love story with young Zero the lobby boy and Agatha the pastry apprentice. It’s a colorful aside to the darker undertones and overall plot. New characters and new actors who take such a big chunk of the lime light, the master thespian race finds and newcomer Toni Revolori the Anderson’s regular gaggle of brilliant actors. Some are even featured in blink and you miss them cameos like the Society of Crossed Keys (in fact they get more visibility in this featurette than the film).
The Grand Budapest Hotel is like a train murder mystery set in the corridors of a hotel, a prison, a mansion and finally the mountains. But what fun it is – all 99 minutes of it. At times it’s shocking but still gut-bustingly funny and witty as all get out. Things never sit still in an Anderson film (one might think he has ADD or something) because the entire affair is a symphony of swift cuts and camera sweeps. There’s even a stop-motion chase scene (a callback to the silent movie era in a way) that is actually quite thrilling. Things move at a brisk and lively pace (again, to be expected) and when people say that something “has it all” Budapest has it and then some…humor, love, adventure, murder mystery, intrigue wrapped up in a cross-country road trip/buddy flick that includes a prison break and fascism? Yup, all on display and Anderson juggles it effortlessly while keeping you, as they say, “auf der stuhlkante“.
All the earmaksof his unique style of filmmaking are there – sight gags, comically redundant narration, wonderful choreography and cinematography, a Kurosawa style of focus that puts every meticulously detailed element in frame, the picture book presentation and doll house setting/location, etc., etc., etc. As beautiful as it is to behold it’s kind of tough to comprehend that the illustriously beatiful Grand Budapest Hotel does not actually exist. Everything is a contrivance; a set as artificial as the Akademie Zubrowka. But if Anderson or his team don’t win an Oscar for art direction or production or anything that rewards visual pinnacles, someone better call the cops.
It’s easy to fall in love with the story and a large part of that can be attributed to how it’s presented. Anderson composes each shot and vignette like its own work of art. Each is exemplary and exceptional. But while visual wonderment is paramount an Anderson regular who again remains unseen is composer Alexandre Desplat. He’s right at home in the worlds Anderson (and Roman Coppola) creates offering up a stellar score as off-beat and yet alluring as the zany colorful characters and scenery. It harks back to the bygone days of early Hollywood and even has a make-shift, travelling band feel to it. It is so good to have him back. In fact, you could hardly think of this, or Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom the same way without his uniquely signature musical contributions.
Calling The Grand Budapest Hotel a “masterpiece” might imply that Anderson has peaked which is just not the case. This, his 8th film to date, is just the next step, albeit a big one, in the evolution of Anderson as a filmmaker. He’s a masterful artist who has found his groove and people love him even if his stories come across either goofy or pompous or both. He simply makes the stories he wants to see and more power to him because he’s the best at what he does. One cannot choose but wonder what’s up his sleeve after this. That said, if Budapest is any indication of the steps he’s now planning to take then his next endeavor is going to be epic.