Book a Visit to The Grand Budapest Hotel: Wes Andersen’s Quirky, Charming, Hilarious, Scenic, All-Star Murder Mystery
By: Ellis Nassour
You never know what to expect from auteur director Wes Anderson and that’s part of what makes the 44-year-old director so fascinating and his films – such as Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Djarleeing Express, Moonrise Kingdom, Fantastic Mr. Fox – so eagerly-anticipated. However, he’s outdone himself in the off-beat arena with his lavish The Grand Budapest Hotel [Fox Searchlight Films; Indian Paintbrush; TSG Entertainment], which has just opened wide after limited engagements in New York and Los Angeles.
Never has murder been more entertaining. That’s partly due to the story, set against a backdrop of the mounting Fascist threat, mirroring how a once-grand belle époque hotel in, no, not Hungary, but in the fictional and quite dysfunctional Republic of Zubrowka, in a mountain spa town typical of those that cropped at the turn of the 19th Century throughout Europe. The hotel is literally commanded by the much-feared, fastidious concierge extraordinary, Gustave H, portrayed with great flair by Ralph Fennes.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is a caper in constant motion, kinetic and comic -described by Anderson as " a timeless tale of friendship, honor, and promises fulfilled."
This is the director/co-writer’s eighth feature film, "which comes from a mix of inspirations including the pre-code comedies of the 30’s and the stories and memoirs of Viennese writer Stefan Zweig."
A young writer, played by Jude Law, in residence at the Grand Budapest meets the shadowedly owner of the hotel, Mr. Moustafa, who recounts the convoluted tale of how he came to acquire it. Oscar, Obie, and Drama Desk winner F. Murray Abraham, currently in Martha Clarke’s revival at the Atlantic Theatre Company of Brecht/Weill’s Threepenny Opera, has a field day with the role, which sadly weighs in as just above a cameo. Playing the pivotal role of Zero, Moustafa in his youth, is Tony Revolori, acting since age two.
The mysterious death of the fabulously wealthy hotel guest Madame D., a memorable albeit brief performance by Oscar winner Tilda Swinton [which required her to spend five hours daily for make-up and hair prep], after she returns home and her bequest of leaving her estate to Gustave [with whom she had romantic liaisons], sets in motion a mad, mad, mad, mad world scramble on motorcycles, trains, sleds, and skis by her ruthless son, a great comic turn by Oscar winner Adrien Brody, to lay claim to her vast fortune.
He’s abetted by a henchman named Jopling, a thug in a leather coat, high-heeled boots, and who has brass-knuckles – a part played by Oscar nominee Dafoe with gleeful ruthlessness.
This leads to encounters of the strange kind with Mathieu Amalric, DD nominee Jeff Goldblum, Oscar and Golden Globe nominee Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Oscar winner Edward Norton, Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, and Owen Wilson.
Many in the cast, such as Brody, Dafoe, Keitel, Murray, Norton, Swinton, and Wilson, and those in cameo appearances are from a sort of Wes Anderson Repertory Company. Among the latter are Bob Balaban, Neil Huff, Larry Pine, and Jason Schwartzman.
Dafoe, who it’ll take some time to recognize, says he’s never surprised at Anderson’s writing, "but this script was really interesting since it is almost a throwback to the Hollywood Golden Age comedies of Lubitsch and Wilder. "
Anderson wrote the part of Monsieur Gustave with Fiennes in mind. "Ralph enriched this character completely," he says. "He just disappears into that persona until you simply say, ‘that’s Monsieur Gustave.’"
Fiennes has long been a fan. "Wes’films have this idiosyncratic lightness of touch inside which belie strong themes and emotions. They’re an unusual blend that no one else can repeat because it comes from his personal sense of humour and perception of the world. He can be exacting, but in a positive way. Wes is always refining a moment until it has the right feel, the right lightness."
For his part, Fiennes immersed himself into the character’s many contradictions. "Gustave is insecure, vain, and needy," he explains, " but he also has a strong sense of principle rooted in the idea of how you look after people and the never-ending battle against the coarseness of the world."
Zero is intended to hail from a fictional Middle-Eastern country. Anderson began seeking actors in Lebanon, Israel, North Africa, and European immigrant communities – but eventually he found Revolori, who has a Guatemalan background, during auditions in Los Angeles. "As soon as I met him," Anderson says, "I recognized the same open earnestness that characterizes Zero. When I introduced Tony to Ralph, the comedic chemistry was immediately clear."
Revolori points out that working with Anderson was "an experience unto itself, unlike any other. I felt like a part of his family, and everyone helped me. Especially Ralph. He became an older brother."
The rapport Fiennes and Revolori developed on set particularly shines onscreen. Fiennes has his British reserve, and Revolori counters it with his dry humor. Goldblum explains that and the entire mood of the film "is all Wes Anderson. He’s always full of fun and enchantment, which is one reason he attracts spectacular people in every capacity working for the love of it."
Norton adds, "Wes is a polestar of personal creative vision. He does something that’s uniquely heartfelt, yet hilarious. His films are a lot like this story in that they create an alternative kind of family, which is very romantic for actors. The cast is a blend of some of Wes’s old gang with a new gang and yet there was this complete sense of unity."
One might wonder why The Grand Budapest Hotel is being released now, and not late last year so it could qualify for any number of award season nominations; and let’s also hope it’s not forgotten by nominating bodies around this time next year. Worthy of recognition are six-time Oscar-nominated composer Alexandre Desplat and his Balalakia-infused score; long-time Anderson collaborator cinematographer Robert Yeoman; production designer Adam Stockhausen and art director Gerald Sullivan; another Anderson collaborator, three-time Oscar-winning costume designer Milena Canonero, and director.
A good omen is that the film, partly made in Germany, was the opening night attraction at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival. The film also boasts a huge contingent of digital artists and international craft persons.
Anderson’s original idea was to shoot in one of those classic hotels; however, he found most of the ones he found in photos to be torn down or too extensively renovated. As luck would have it, he found his Grand Budapest in a vast turn-of-the-century department store at the intersection of Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic, in the UNESCO World Heritage town of Görlitz, which had architectural influences from the Gothic and Baroque to Art Nouveau.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is a spiffy and stunning art-house film that also has wide appeal to anyone who loves good and unpredictable storytelling with numerous and delightful twists and turns. In a perfect world, there should be nominations for actors Ralph Fiennes, straight out of the cinema gate from last year’s acclaimed performance in The Invisible Woman, but here is a Fiennes you’ve never seen and never thought you’d see – who knew he was so adept at farce.
[Trivia: Immerse yourself in the Republic of Zubrowka and explore the history of the illustrious Grand Budapest. Download intriguing screenshots at: http://pr.mammothnyc.com/TGBH/AkademieScreenshots.zip.]
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