What to Expect?

Wes Anderson’s colourful new addition to his repertoire of filmmaking

For Wes Anderson’s intricately detailed filmmaking process to be appreciated, it’s very important for potential viewers to get how subversive the stories he tells are – much less the surreally eccentric atmosphere he sets the characters of his tales in. So much so, that even an adaptation of a simple Roald Dahl story meant for kids has to have a lot of Anderson’s hand in heavily retelling major elements of it differently on screen. What would follow otherwise after a viewing of his films would be a hit or miss. Which brings us to the entry of the experimentally filmed colourful melange of character, screen and story that is The Grand Budapest Hotel, through its versatile, curiosity-piquing trailer. Of course, there’s lots of other reasons one should watch them. Three important ones, however, are being listed below:

  • Besides containing powerhouse talent of the likes of Ralph Fiennes and Tilda Swinton, there’s the inevitable return the highly versatile recurring collaborators in Wes’ movies, consisting of Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray and so many more.
  • The filming, in itself, consists of a set of different aspect ratios denoting the time periods the frames connote to. This, of course, would be particularly fascinating to those more knowledgeable in the art of filmmaking and its evolution through the times. It doesn’t in the least, however, ignore the rest of the movie loving audience, for whom the shift in time looks evident with any shift in the frame’s aspect ratios.
  • The fascinating, almost fairytale-like production design of the film shows definite sparks of brilliance in its trailer; enough to make someone want to take a gander at the movie for a better look into its experience.

But then again, there are a couple of potential pitfalls too. Anderson has already -through his definitive filmmaking style – given away that he is not your average-joe filmmaker. This can – as has been shown before through the mixed reception to  his films The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited – be very well proved thus. That being said, his movies still generate a lot of curiosity.

What’s it About?

And we can all be rest assured that the Concierge of the titular Hotel, monsieur Gustave H. (Fiennes, The Constant Gardener), raises a lot of curiosity of many an older woman, much less the fascination of ‘lobby-boy’ Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori). When one of his ‘close friends’ and regular attendees – Madame D. (a shockingly unrecognisable Tilda Swinton, Burn After Reading) – dies at 84 and Gustave is accused of murder, Zero must team up with the love of his life Agatha (Saoirse Ronan, Hanna) to save his mentor from forces of power and clear his name from the law.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Once the movie is over and the credits start rolling, many a viewer will agree with this writer’s statement that this would have been an incredibly difficult film to make. Superficially, there’s not a lot to the story, as is seen. But the incredible characterisation, coupled with the exquisite graph of Anderson’s adaptive screenwriting to his collaborative story with British artist-illustrator Hugo Guinness, gives the movie a huge boost. This, in addition to the bold decision of casting famed names (Owen Wilson, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray) to small, but strong roles that are peppered through the whole of the film, makes the movie an enchanting visual storytelling experience for reasons more than one. Another reason the movie will have its share of detractors is the deliberate decision of leaving ambiguous some elements of the story; possibly for the viewers to dot the i’s and cross the t’s themselves. What the movie makes up for in its arbitrarily superficial-looking filmmaking is the emotional depth, and the huge subtext that lies around for the viewer to pick up and relish – if found, that is.

A movie like this needs an equally strong support in the technical department, and support is certainly gets. Apart from being presented with at least three different aspect ratios – 1.33:1 (or the standard 4:3 resolution) for the 1932 timeline, the 2.35:1 (pre-1970 35mm anamorphic) for the narrative timeline set in 1968 featuring Jude Law and F. Murray Abraham, and finally the 1:85 modern widescreen (a tad wider than the more known 16:9) for the present day timeline – the movie finds itself shot to the kind of filmmaking that was closer to the times. Usage of miniature models and subtle stop-motion in the Fiennes-Revolori timeline adds to the very steady camerawork and the deliberated jump cuts during some sequences, while steady track movement and dramatic lighting take over the 1968 timeline to add to the cinematic flair. Wes’ staunch collaborator Robert Yeoman (Bridesmaids, The Darjeeling Limited) comes back to paint a vivid visual picture with his strokes of direction, what with the bright colours adding to the pitch-perfect lighting in most of the frames. Editing by Barney Pilling (Never Let Me Go, One Day) is commendable. It’s amazing how Pilling coincides with each timeline’s corresponding edit styles, adhering to the restrictions then, giving the film a unique look of an uncanny, unrefined polish throughout. Production design helps the movie achieve its fairytale-like look in each frame. In fact, it seems the makers were going for a story with adult sensibilities to be retold with filters of imaginative, lighthearted wonder. Accompanying the intimately wondrous visual splendour of the film is Alexandre Desplat’s (Argo) music. Effectively using the orchestrated space of music, Desplat cleverly uses audible props to effectively emphasise the time, place and type of story told. Filled with a dash of yodelling, some flamenco guitar work, the foreboding warning of a church-organ and an overall European flair that will certainly remind one of the music Desplat composed for Casanova, the score is a surefire win.

Of course, with a host of ups come a few downs. Viewers who aren’t able to grasp the underlying thought process of Anderson’s emotional character-driven undertones may find the movie almost – if not entirely – flaky. There may also be a lot of misinterpretations to Anderson’s use of different visual styles in this film (correlating more to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Moonrise Kingdom than anything else) and – for his more ardent viewers – the the lack of some of his own trademarks (that one, long, ultra slow-motion, one-take, track moving shot that is used to define or sum up either a scene or the entire storyline artfully). Also, at the risk of repeating himself, this writer would like to reiterate a very important fact: if potential viewers of his cinema haven’t been able to fully grasp how Anderson makes films so far, it would be a total hit, or a total miss for them.

To Perform or Not to Perform?

Crowded with performers, yet consistently spaced out throughout

For a movie that has a host of brilliant performers, it will be but difficult to have put all of them in one place for due appraisal. This writer will however try. Let’s first get to Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori though. While Fiennes plays a refined character to hilt, Tony Revolori has tonnes of confidence. The two seem to have a great camaraderie together and keep hitting it off like a house on fire whenever they’re in the same frame. Playing Revolori’s love interest, Saoirse Ronan delivers her candid performance with ease. Willem Dafoe as the antagonist both looks the part and is hilarious in his performance of the almost-satirical character arc of the quintessential bad guy. Adrien Brody’s grey character is an interestingly fresh change of roles from his previous ones. Let’s just say that there will be a host of people witnessing Tilda Swinton’s name credited in the list of the whole cast as the movie wraps up, and gasp, But she looked NOTHING like herself! Jude Law and Tom Wilkinson as the younger and older forms of “The Author” are convincing enough to pull it off the way they do. So does F. Murray Abraham as Revolori’s character’s older self. Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel, Matheiu Amalric, Jeff Goldblum and Owen Wilson are efficient in their consistently peppered roles throughout. It’s interesting to note how crowded the film is with notable performers, yet how well spaced out the characters are through the course of the film’s screen story.

Worth it?

If it were up to the writer of this article, he would definitely want the reader to watch this wondrous piece of filmmaking. The choice, though, is left upon the viewer to decide. As a standalone film it’s a marvellous fairytale-like adventure that adds to the repertoire of Wes Anderson’s consistently subversive filmmaking genius. For an Anderson addition, it may, or may not be his best, depending on the opinions and bias of his varied film-followers. While the plot Anderson has helmed in itself might not be his best (Rushmore) or his most intimate (The Darjeeling Limited), it definitely falls under one of the best in his repertoire.

Star Rating: 4.5 / 5