“Woah, man! What the frick are you talking about?”
Good question. Both Tarantino and Anderson are brilliant screenwriters who love to have sharp, talky characters at the center of their films. Both have stylized views of how to stage a scene and frame a shot. And, with these films, they both craft a central relationship between a put-upon immigrant and a sage mentor with good intentions despite his less than entirely savory lifestyle. Both also shine a light on a difficult period in history in a heightened, not entirely realistic way.
Admittedly, Budapest’s look at the creeping terror of fascism in Europe in the 1930’s doesn’t have the immediacy of slavery in the antebellum US, but the results, we know, are very nearly equally horrifying. Both films use this “historical” backdrop to tell very specific stories of friendship and perseverance in the face of ridiculous odds.
So, what’s The Grand Budapest Hotel about? It’s about Ralph Fiennes’s M. Gustave, the legendary concierge of the titular hotel, which, interestingly, isn’t in Budapest. (It’s in the fictional country of Zubrowka.) He has many dalliances with the elderly ladies who frequent his hotel, and one of them (Tilda Swinton) ends up dead. Gustave is both the heir to a famous painting from her collection, and a suspect in her murder. His young helper, Zero, provides the support he needs to escape from prison and seek out proof of his innocence.
Like other Anderson films, everything has a very staged feel. Camera’s never zoom in or out; they always track. Most shots are static, until they either dolly sideways or do a quick ninety-degree pan to the left or right. Sets are incredibly detailed and richly colored. Every shot of the mountains of Zubrowka is an archaically constructed paper storybook scene. Even a thrilling ski chase is shot in such a way that we cannot help but grin at the low tech nature of it. Anderson is only interested in little details. The big picture is left largely to the imagination.
The film is stuffed with great performances which are thankfully all accomplished in the actors’ native accents. Fiennes, Jude Law and Tom Wilkinson get to seem upper class with their refined British tones. Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel and Edward Norton seem like straightforward, no-nonsense Americans. (Seriously, why doesn’t Jeff Goldblum get more work? He’s awesome.) Saorsie Ronan is a grounded Irish lass. Mathieu Almaric is a put-upon Frenchman. And in this alternate-history inter-war period, it all seems to work.
I could have done with an ending that was a little longer on emotion. The otherwise excellent relationship between Gustave and Zero doesn’t have the conclusion that I would have wished. But, that minor gripe aside, I did enjoy the film quite a bit.