Thursday, February 5, 2015

Oscars 2014: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Some of the many principals of The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Grand Budapest Hotel (U.S., 2014) directed by Wes Anderson, 100 minutes

Nine Oscar nominations:
Best Picture
Costume Design
Film Editing
Makeup and Hairstyling
Music (Original Score)
Production Design
Writing (Original Screenplay)

Wes Anderson's work has always struck me as twee: too precious, too cute, for consumption. This reaction seems to puzzle and annoy people. Apparently the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts doesn't agree either as The Grand Budapest Hotel was nominated for nine Oscars - tying with Birdman for the most nominations of any film this year.

Anderson redeems himself somewhat (in my eyes) as the plot, while playfully surreal as almost all his films are, demonstrates a somewhat more adult theme than previous offerings. 

In 1968, in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka, we encounter the elderly Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) who tells a fantastic tale told in five parts to a sympathetic young author (Jude Law) as to how he came to own the now crumbling, formerly sumptuous, Grand Budapest Hotel. The tale is part loony tunes cartoon, part homage to 1940s war-time films.

Mr. Moustafa's story begins in 1932 in the Republic of Zubrowka, a fictitious, vaguely Eastern European country, in an elegant hotel named The Grand Budapest. M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), a persnickety if devoted, concierge with an elaborate British accent and moustache, courts aging doyennes of substantial means - one of whom is Madame Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe und Taxis - a near unrecognisable Tilda Swinton under a staggering amount of make-up. Gustave's devoted companion/assistant is the young lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori).

Madame D. leaves the hotel one day and soon dies. In the reading of the will, it is revealed that Madame D. has bequeathed Gustave the valuable painting Boy with Apple. Her son, Dmitri Desgoffe und Taxis (the black clad Adrien Brody equipped with a sinister moustache and three hideous sisters, also adorned in black) is appropriately outraged. Gustave steals the painting from the hotel and secures it in the hotel's safe. He is soon arrested and imprisoned in Zubrowka's prison. Zero helps Gustave escape by digging his way out of his cell with the help of four convicts (including a bald, ornery looking Harvey Keitel) then joins with Zero to secure his innocence.

Gustave and Zero are pursued by Jopling (Willem Dafoe), an assassin hired by Dmitri. Gustave calls upon fellow members of the Society of the Crossed Keys
Boy with Apple
an order of concierges (featuring some fun cameos from a number of actors such as Bill Murray, Bob Balaban and Fisher Stevens) who assist them in evading Jopling. Comic hi jinks in a monastery replete with dozens of monks in white, an isolated mountaintop, a ski run and an improbable sleigh ride ensue. Zero eventually eliminates the assassin and saves Gustave. Here is where Anderson usually loses me … anyone of these scenarios might have moved the plot along but he must have all four because it’s stranger and quirkier that way. And interminable. 

When the couple returns to The Grand Budapest, the country is on the verge of war and a sinister SS like paramilitary organization has commandeered the hotel. Agatha (Saoirse Ronan), Zero’s love interest, attempts to retrieve the painting from the hotel safe but is discovered by Dimitri which prompts a chaotic gunfight in the hotel. When the smoke clears, a copy of Madame D's second will is discovered at the back of the painting. The will reveals that she was the owner of The Grand Budapest and that all of her fortune, the hotel, and the painting should be left to Gustave. 

One could have left it at that but in a final section of the film, we learn of Gustave’s and Agatha’s unfortunate deaths. Zero inherits a fortune from Gustave but the Communist takeover of Zubrowka takes its toll on The Grand Budapest. We learn that Zero cannot let go of the hotel because of his enduring love for Agatha. 

Revelori (Zero) and Fiennes (Gustave)
Anderson has a tremendous eye and great style but I consistently fear that his films revolve around the silliest of plots and character types. The women are girl-children dressed in strange, whimsically retro clothing and hairstyles that make them oddly inaccessible as real women. The main male characters feel like two dimensional cartoons. The plots are contrived and strange. Many love them, but for myself they irritate me most of the time.  

The sweetness of the plot here is perhaps more palatable as there are decidedly more sinister elements at work - the anachronistically foul-mouthed Dimitri (Adrien Brody) who does not even attempt to speak in a language consistent with the era. The unexpected demise of Gustave and Agatha. The very real danger of the Nazi-like forces that occupy the hotel. Here is a turn of the unexpected and real in his work.

No comments: