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Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

March 17, 2014

By John Corrado

**** (out of 4)

The Grand Budapest Hotel Poster

The distinctive style that Wes Anderson has developed throughout his seven previous features is fully on display in The Grand Budapest Hotel, as the iconic Texas director adds another thematically rich and beautifully produced picture to his perfect filmography.

This is the work of a genuine auteur at the top of his game, an artist who has never made a wrong step throughout his filmmaking career.  It’s also the first truly great movie of 2014, one that is already lighting up the box office in limited release, and will hopefully be remembered come awards season.

The plot is ingeniously told as a story within a story, recounting the life of Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), a dedicated concierge at the legendary Grand Budapest Hotel in the fictional European Republic of Zubrowka, and the friendship that develops with his faithful lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori).

When the elderly Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) is found dead and Gustave is framed for the murder, he steals the famed painting known as Boy With Apple that was left to him in her will, attracting the attention of her hateful son Dmitri (Adrien Brody).

The film starts with an elderly author (Tom Wilkinson) in 1985 telling the story that was told to him as a younger man (Jude Law) in 1968 by the aging Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), taking us back to 1932 where much of the film takes place.  From these multiple generations of voiceovers, to the seamless switches between aspect ratios depending on which decade of the story we are in, this is an ambitious and impressively structured film.

Every scene is a work of art, as the perfectly choreographed actors move through the gorgeously designed sets.  It’s appropriate that the lovely pastries designed by local baker and love interest Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) play a small but pivotal role, metaphorically representing this film that is beautiful on the surface, but has an equally satisfying centre.

The films of Wes Anderson seem to exist in their own world, with common stylistic bonds tying together his eight features.  His films spanning from 1996 until now play beautifully together, especially his previous two triumphs Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom, but each one also holds up perfectly on its own.  The director has assembled another stunning ensemble cast in The Grand Budapest Hotel, including cameo appearances from many of his frequent collaborators.  At the heart of it all is a brilliant performance from Ralph Fiennes, who brings to life an unforgettable character.

Wes Anderson has a gift for balancing absurd humour and quirky characters with pathos and bittersweet emotion, both of which are beautifully woven together in The Grand Budapest Hotel.  A mountain chase is a perfect example of his penchant for madcap visual comedy, but the film is also structured around a feeling of melancholy.  The story being told takes place between both wars, and though the setting is fictional, the film draws fascinating comparisons to the rising political unrest during that time.  This is where The Grand Budapest Hotel finds its heart, paying touching tribute to lost cultures and the last truly good people in the world.

Although it’s still early in the year, this is guaranteed to be remembered as one of the very best movies of 2014.  A gorgeous and enchanting love letter to storytelling and classic filmmaking, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a marvellously entertaining caper that ends on a moving and poignant note, a masterpiece that is sure to grow even more resonant with every viewing.

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