The Grand Budapest Hotel bubbles with verve. Wes Andersons’s aesthetic melts over every frame of the movie. His trademark zooms and pans give his latest film an almost documentarian feel, echoing the faux-nature special look of a Jaime Uys film. But unlike Uys, there is no pretense of realism in Anderson’s world. Instead, we see into his sandbox. The audience is the fly on the wall, watching a collage of doll-like caricatures bounce around his imaginary playhouse.
Key to Anderson’s artificial reality is motif. Anderson thrives in it. As a result, his characters live in a universe rife with repetition. This is the lot given to Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), the concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel.
An unabashed romantic, Gustave fancies himself a talented poet; he spontaneously launches into flowery recitations throughout the movie. Yet neither he, nor his protegé Zero (Tony Revolori), nor Zero’s girlfriend, Agatha (Saorise Ronan), ever manage to get out an entire poem before something abruptly interrupts them. Ostensibly beautiful moments are always subverted by harsher ones, all at Anderson’s whim.
Partway through The Grand Budapest Hotel, I found myself wondering how a movie featuring so many analogue camera tricks and stylistically dated tropes could exist in 2014. I think Wes Anderson wonders this himself. Toward the end of the movie, a voice over from Zero states that Gustave was born out of time. Perhaps this refers not only to Gustave, but to Anderson, as well.
Like Anderson, Gustave desperately clings to antiquated ideas about love, idealism, and legacy. Where Gustave retreats to his beloved hotel to escape the cold bleakness of reality, the director retreats to the world of cinema. Through this lens, the rest of the film falls into place.
The Grand Budapest Hotel oscillates between different time periods. To delineate between them, Anderson uses alternating color palettes, aspect ratios, and narrators for each era. These simple changes show how far removed Gustave, or Anderson, is from the real world.
During one exciting scene late in the film, a ladder slides down in front of the camera. Its rungs outline little squares, creating the visual effect that looks like a film strip as it races past the screen. Down that ladder comes Gustave, or Anderson, literally climbing the rungs of film: in this case, to escape prison. The metaphor is clear.
Though Gustave hermetically seals himself off from society, Anderson bites back at his imagined oppressors. He seems to criticize the vapid colorlessness endemic to modern life by contrasting it with the sheer vivacity of Gustave’s world. To complete the commentary, a young modern girl used to narratively frame the movie can only read about The Grand Budapest Hotel in a book, never to experience its legendary reputation firsthand. Gustave and his wild adventures are forever trapped in the past.
This moment seems to come with bitter affectation from Anderson. Scenes in modern day are depicted as antiseptic and bland. It is only in Gustave’s time that colors of passion – red and purple – are in full effect. In the middle time period (the 80s), a muted orange and blue palette takes over. It feels as though Wes Anderson, with his peacock strut and audacious cinematography, believes he is the last bastion of classical romance and passion left.
Even with this reading of the film, Anderson’s self-reflective approach keeps The Grand Budapest Hotel at a distance. It feels as though the movie was made less for the audience, and more for the director; it comes across as a personal self-portrait. In the meantime, cameos come and go with alarming frequency. The cast feels overcrowded, featuring an absurd amount of stars whose existence seems to have no purpose beyond simple name recognition.
In Moonrise Kingdom, Bruce Willis and Ed Norton had remarkable scenes which gave their characters a sense of depth and purpose. At The Grand Budapest, only Zero, Gustave, and Agatha have any time to breathe. Major players like Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, and Jeff Goldblum are underutilized, while the immortal Harvey Keitel is relegated to an almost unnoticeable bit part.
The result is something charming, but impersonal: a gorgeous spectacle filled with familiar faces all talking about something just out of earshot. At The Grand Budapest Hotel, we are not invited to engage with the director’s playful idealism. We are simply guests passing through, as much outsiders as the young girl reading about the hotel in her book. Like Gustave, Anderson remains sequestered out of time. I think he prefers it that way.
Movie Verdict: Win