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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"The Grand Budapest Hotel", Wes Anderson's Republic

The Grand Budapest Hotel

In my book, that's entertainment. Entertainment within an inviting, personal, mesmerizing world, where an author, in this case, a film director, goes way further in his imagination, being able to show it to a captivated audience. 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' might not be as touching as 'Bottle Rocket' or 'The Royal Tennenbaums', but easily qualifies as Wes Anderson's most rounded adventure of his filmography to date, and can compete to 'Life Aquatic' (which can't explain why but absolutely adore) in what regards to visual wonders.

Can a film be absurd, funny, exciting, violent and colourful at the same time? Yes. 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' combines all those elements. And again, it's visually wonderful and exciting. Anderson creates his own universe (loosely and freely based on Stefan Zweig's books), which is exuberant and somehow decadent, with cartooning but real characters, old-world charms and witty one-liners. It simply haunts the viewer with puzzling shots full of details.It's Anderson's fantasy, his improbable Republic, and we are invited to watch it. And foremost, enjoy it.

Although it can be argued the story in itself plays a secondary role compared with the care put on the flamboyant and flawless sets and visuals that's not to mean is not important or lacks substance. It's an adventure with a twisted humour, taking place at a vertigo pace and with killing, rapid-fire dialogues. But behind there's something else, something darker, more nostalgic and evocative. The world we are seeing in the film is not real, but it's even worse: it looks familiar, historically real, but out of time. It's a parallel reality looking condemned, already past, already gone. Forced to disappear too?

No one reflects that sense of an ancient world on the verge of being forgotten than the Budapest Hotel's concierge, Gustave H., played gracefully by Ralph Fiennes, the absolute star of the show. Relentless, old fashioned, sophisticated to the extreme, mannerist, picky and absolutely devoted to his job... and the glamour it concedes... at least in his head. He's the epitome of a vanishing present, quickly becoming past.

The film is a basically an adventure, involving an impossible chasing after Gustave puts himself in an extremely dangerous situation when he's inherits a precious painting which confronts himself with very dangerous people. But even more important, all this hide and seek tale is set against a very particular backdrop: the Nazis (although they are called that in the film) invading Central Europe. There are some scenes of imploding violence and the threat of war is always present. So the funny, offbeat and quirky humour, one of Anderson's trademarks, is sometimes poisoned by what looks like reality getting through fantasy. A cornerstone scene that happens twice during the movie says it all.

Anderson surrounds Gustave between two generational worlds. In a stellar cast of well-known faces (Anderson's growing family of actors) in supporting spots, including Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Jeff Goldblum or the charicaturesque, terrible villains played by Willem Dafoe and Adrien Brody. In a key, hilarious and unforgettable scene which includes our dear Bill Murray, the troubled Gustave seeks for the help of his colleagues: we are referring to concierges of several hotels, similar in their old fashioned and surreal style to The Grand Budapest, all over Europe. Each of them stop their flawless and impeccably executed duties to attend Gustave's call, putting in charge their respective assistants. A younger generation taking the lead. Which is exactly the case with lovely Saoirse Ronan as Agatha and Tony Revolori as Zero, the other leading roles, becoming Gustave's partners in the adventure and their offbeat counterpoints on the dialogues.

At times, with 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' I had the feeling aesthetics and visuals were winning the battle instead of the story. You know when after watching a movie there's not a lot to talk about outside the theater? That's not exactly true in this case, but the majority of comments were focused on a particularly impressive scenario, a beyond cool imagery, or a stunning look. Would the movie be a masterpiece with a more profound insight on the characters & story? Maybe. But it would have been a different movie for sure. And who knows, maybe Anderson's wild, bustling imagination, would have been constrained with a more conventional plot development. So, for once, I'll just enjoy this masterful entertainment without caring that much about how long it will endure...

SCORE: 7,5/10

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