Grand Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel

My friend Stephen Murphy worked on the makeup for the aged Tilda!

To the 100-year-old Cameo Cinema to see THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL. They were also showing INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS. You wait ages for a movie with F. Murray Abraham in a roll-neck sweater and then two come along at once.

I liked MOONRISE KINGDOM more than any other Wes Anderson film (though I still haven’t caught up with BOTTLE ROCKET which some people like best of all, considering everything subsequent to be an ever-downward spiralling into bloodless mannerism, which is a point of view) and I liked FANTASTIC MR FOX before that more than everything before that, so there was evidence that he was on a roll. I didn’t like this one as much as those but I enjoyed it. There was a slightly uncomfortable quality though.

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The art direction and look are as finicky and perfectionist as ever — I don’t dislike that so that’s fine. And he does vary the screen ratio, the font and even the lens I think on this one (unless all those zooms are all CG fake, which is possible), so in a superficial way we have to say he’s progressing artistically. I’ll come to the more thematic progress in a moment.

More good stuff: Ralph (it’s pronounced “Ralph,” by the way) Fiennes is extremely funny and a little bit endearing, doing his Leonard Rossiter impersonation which he always does when asked to be light. No bad thing. I can’t decide if it IS an impression or if it’s just his natural comic mode. Weirdly, Peter Serafinowicz’s impersonation of Ralph Fiennes as Leonard Rossiter seems to predate IN BRUGES, the first film I saw in which he got his Rossiter on properly. Maybe he was inspired by it.
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The whole rest of the cast is very fine. It’s deliriously overdone, like everything with Anderson. Is this role a good use of, say, Harvey Keitel’s remaining time on earth? He mainly seems to have been employed to jiggle his pectorals. Couldn’t somebody who needs the money and exposure more be given a chance at that? But it was nice to see Jeff Goldblum, who doesn’t seem to do enough movies, and who should still be a top leading man, not some kind of guest star. Nobody else can do what he does.

This is really the first Wes Anderson film with proper villains, it seems to me. Adrien Brody is not really heavyweight enough compared to Willem Dafoe, who does all the nasty stuff anyway, so there’s a slight problem of dramatic priorities in terms of dealing with those characters and their evil schemes. The violence was startling for an Anderson film. Sure it’s cartoony but it leaps out at you in this flat, pastel, artificial world. I felt it was a problem that (a) Anderson concocts his own version of European history, with a Ruritanian central setting (which is fine in itself) menaced by a fictional version of Nazi Germany (which was fine for Chaplin in THE GREAT DICTATOR but doesn’t make such clear sense here) and (b) gives almost all the violence to some scheming aristocrats — in other words, Nazi Germany, present by proxy, has almost no role in the story. I didn’t get the sense that the personal perfidies of Brody and Dafoe were there to be compared to the encroaching political darkness, either in terms of “These minor villainies are insignificant compared to what’s coming” or “These minor villainies are a microcosm of what’s coming.” I felt Anderson was actually uncomfortable dealing with the politics at all. He’s said that the kind of politics he likes in films is the kind you get in DUNE — fictional factions whose movements add to the reality of the created world, rather than saying anything about this world or making any kind of point. I mean, there are NO politics in DUNE — there are good guys, bad guys, and different factions, but there is no sense that the Atreides clan, the Harkonnens or the Emperor desire any different kind of constitutional set-up. It’s similar in GBH.

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The natural comparison would be with Lubitsch and TO BE OR NOT TO BE. How do you stage a comic operetta narrative against a backdrop of fascism? The difference is, Lubitsch had a compelling reason to do it and he knew what the reason was, and he clearly thought deeply about all his choices. I mean, for all I know Anderson had reasons and thought deeply too, I just don’t see the evidence onscreen. I think the film falls short of that part of its ambition which is serious, which is why I don’t feel reminded of the work of Stefan Zweig.

One thing that was fun about MOONRISE KINGDOM was that it didn’t have any bad guys but still managed to function as a peculiar kind of action movie, making quite enthusiastic use of Bruce Willis as an icon of that genre. GBH has a chase through a museum seemingly inspired by the one in Hitchcock’s TORN CURTAIN (a lovely scene in a darkened hall full of suits of armour, each picked out of the enveloping blackness by its own personal spotlight, is the film’s most striking visual development — it doesn’t violate Anderson’s ironclad aesthetic, but it doesn’t look like anything else he’s done either) and a toboggan chase that comes either from ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (an influential film, these days) or THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS, though the figures’ movements in longshot have the speeded-up zaniness of FANTASTIC MR FOX.

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I would like another animated Wes Anderson film, please.

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14 Responses to “Grand Hotel”

  1. I liked it a lot more than you did and will have a piece to that effect up on Keyframe shortly.

    Wes is neither Lubitsch nor Chaplin, though he loves both. He’s his own Cinema which runs parallel to everyone else in an alternate universe: WesWorld. That’s why I think it’s a bit much to complain that he has nothing to say about the Nazis. Mel Brooks has eaten up the cinematic air on that score and having Wes characters denounce the Third Reich in one of his perfect dollhouse compositions is a bit much I think.

    His subject is Good Manners in Peril.

    Very Twee — which is why I like him.

  2. That subject — good manners in peril — is very much the theme of To Be or Not to Be, which is why I thought the comparison suitable. My difficulty — which didn’t stop me enjoying it, I had a lot of fun — is that bringing in the shadow of the III Reich and then not really having anything to say about it seems like an artistic fumble. An ex-student suggests that the decline of the aristocracy might make a better theme for Wes, and that’s in there alright but is struggling for air.

    Or he could have let Dafoe stand in for the whole of Nazism, which Dafoe is perfectly capable of doing…

  3. That’s the Ticket! Having played Nosferatu Willem is an ideal Nazi stand-in

    Next up : Pier Paolo Pasolini for everyone’s favorite heroin-addicted auteur, Abel Ferrara.

  4. I know people love Dafoe and he gets lots of work in big and interesting films, but he’s STILL underrated. Not many people can do naturalism and expressionism and everything in between.

  5. part of me thinks that there is still decaying Zonobia somewhere between Romania and Czech republic… and I can travel there on rickety trains and stay in communist chic hotels .. memo to self this isn’t real!

  6. though I must add that Miss F seems to have got herself a gig as a cat extra…

  7. Can’t wait to see this. For what it’s worth, I’ve had a similar take on Anderson to yours: Loved MOONRISE KINGDOM more than anything else I’d seen by him, and before that FANTASTIC MR FOX was my favorite. But I hadn’t seen the first two films yet, so I went back to watch them. I loved RUSHMORE just as much as MOONRISE KINGDOM (but then again, I have a thing for Olivia Williams), but I bounced off BOTTLE ROCKET. Couldn’t stand it.

    Dafoe truly is amazing. Watching him play the pretty boy in THE LOVELESS is always a surprise somehow.

  8. The words Willem Dafoe and “Pretty Boy” seem ill-matched somehow, but it proves within his vast, continent-spanning range.

  9. It’s worth remembering that the Nazis weren’t the only extreme right-wing nationalists in eastern Europe in the 1930s. Except for Czechoslovakia every country was a dictatorship or semi-dictatorship with an ideology of national superiority leavened by anti-Semitism.

  10. jwarthen Says:

    Since I am months from being able to see BUDAPEST HOTEL, am left reading the above and wondering why no one seems interested in invoking an obvious analogue: the Czech I SERVED THE KING OF ENGLAND, made by people whose regard for East Europe’s legacy of despots is native.

  11. I saw I Served the King of England when it came out, but really Wes Anderson movies mainly resemble other Wes Anderson movies.

    Though I like Jiri Menzel a lot, and dug the way his 21st century film looked exactly like a 60s Czech film, I found its transforming of Nazi eugenics into an innocuous sex fantasy rather creepy. So in the sense of there being something a bit off, there’s a similarity. But when you see the Wes you won’t be reminded of anything specific about the Menzel, I don’t *think*…

  12. Well, now I’ve seen it, and I think I liked it better than you too, although MOONRISE KINGDOM is still my favorite. Definitely was feeling a lot of Lubitsch in this, was well as the Marx Brothers parody of Lubitsch: Maurice Chevalier as gigolo to Margaret Dumont.

  13. I first saw Fiennes’ Rigby onstage stage in Coriolanus (very differernt to his own film). It was Startling. My theory at the time – cruel, but I’m sticking to it – was that he was suddenly overcompensating for all the previous times his jaw retreated into his neck. I think he’s come on brilliantly since. Boy, was that Coriolanus like Rigby though.

  14. That could be part of it, but there’s the voice, the timing, the mannerisms, all pure Rossiter. I truly suspect some kind of metempsychosis.

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