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Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Disclaimer: If you are hoping for a copycat of director Wes Anderson’s beloved Moonrise Kingdom, Grand Budapest Hotel is not it. Since I’ve seen the film, the first question I’ve been asked by numerous cineastes is: “Is it like ‘Moonrise Kingdom’?” Well, yes and no. Grand Budapest Hotel is unlike anything the auteur has done previously, and yet it is quite assuredly his most mature and polished work of film art. Yes, Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom was by far his most accessible work, and the precocious tale of young love proved to be a critical and mainstream darling. Perhaps a fraction of this resounding success can be attributed to the fact that, for the first time, audience members could relate to its charming lead characters.

In the past, mainstream audiences had found his previous leads such as Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman from Rushmore) and the members of the Tenenbaum family to be quirky in an off-putting and glacial way. People often commented that it was difficult to connect with the icy characters and the self-assured, to an almost smug degree, tone that the films chillingly emitted. Yet Moonrise Kingdom was an anomaly for Wes Anderson-it exuded warmth in its palette, and deeply flawed, yet relatable dramatis personae. In an early scene in the film, where young charming leads Sam and Suzy meet cute, he bluntly asks her: “what kind of bird are you?” (for those unfamiliar with the film, she is dressed in the scene as an exotic bird for a church production of Noah’s Ark). If Moonrise Kingdom could be described as a beautiful bird of a film, then Grand Budapest Hotel is an opulent bird of a different feather (a peacock’s in Anderson’s cap, if you will).

Assembling his dependable wheelhouse of actors, Anderson crafts this sadly melancholic tale as a cherished children’s storybook, as scrupulously relayed to its curious author (Jude Law) from lobby boy turned hotel owner Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham). The story begins in 1932, in the Republic of Zubrowska (oddly, not Hungary) and revolves around the titular hotel’s delightful concierge Monsieur Gustave H. (played by the brilliant Ralph Fiennes). Sage-like Gustave has a penchant for lengthy poetic soliloquies, and for enormously wealthy elderly women who habituate the hotel. When he learns of the mysterious demise of his latest paramour Madame D. (Tilda Swinton, in a brief, but hilarious turn) he travels to the reading of her will with his lobby boy in tow (played by the exceptional Tony Revolori in the character’s younger years).

When it is announced shockingly that she bequeathed Gustave her priceless painting, Boy with Apple, her son Dmitri (Adrien Brody) angrily frames him with his mother’s murder. Before he is charged and thrown off the estate, however, Gustave and his trusted companion make off with the valuable work of art. What follows is a surprisingly dramatic comedy of errors, including a jailhouse great escape featuring Harvey Keitel, a mad dash away from murderous Willem Defoe (playing a salaciously violent henchman of Dmitri’s) and a bevy of handcrafted sweets, featuring prominently in the proceedings. Oh, and what delectable treats they are. Meticulously crafted by the lovely baker’s apprentice Agatha (played by the always reliable Saoirse Ronan), the delicacies act as a bewitching distraction whenever the troublesome lead duo get in a bind. One can easily note that the exquisite treats are much like the film in which they are featured as a centerpiece. Made from the finest ingredients (in the film’s case, award-worthy performances from an all-star cast, and an enchanting score by Alexandre Desplat), and with mouth-watering presentation (beautiful cinematography by Robert D. Yeoman, with an ever-changing aspect ratio to signify time and place changes being la piece de resistance), Grand Budapest Hotel is a film that is worth savoring.

[star v=45]

Leora Heilbronn

Leora Heilbronn is a Toronto based film aficionado who has a weakness for musicals and violent action flicks. She can often be spotted reading a wide range of literature or listening to show tunes.