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Film Review of the Week: The Grand Budapest Hotel



In Wes Anderson's latest smorgasbord, The Grand Budapest Hotel, a young lobby boy named Zero Moustafa and a stately, mustachioed concierge named Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) encounter about a thousand strangers — all of them portrayed by actors and actresses you'll recognize! — as they steal a coveted painting from the estate of a seasonal guest at the Grand Budapest who has suddenly died, and then evade authorities and bloodthirsty relatives whilst scurrying about a lavishly fictionalized Eastern Europe during the mid-twentieth century.

As with most Anderson productions, the plot here is distantly secondary (in fact, almost incidental) to the tableaus and sequences he choreographs with such artistry and giddy aplomb. Grand Budapest doesn't have the beating heart of Moonrise Kingdom (2012), but it dazzles with more panache and surface-level intricacies than anything Anderson's done to date. This is quintessential Anderson, cinephiles. This is Anderson on steroids. This is Anderson, the gifted satirist and hyperbolist who has turned the satire and hyperbole on himself (perhaps unconsciously). What this means in practical terms is that if you're a fan of his other stuff, you'll probably love this one and if you're not you probably won't.

Based (very loosely, one suspects) on the writings of the Austrian man of letters Stefan Zweig, Grand Budapest starts with a writer (Tom Wilkinson) looking back on his younger days. While staying at the Grand Budapest hotel in the 1960s (in the person of Jude Law) he meets the solemn, elderly owner of the hotel (F. Murray Abraham) who recounts to him the great caper of his lobby-boy days over a duck and champagne dinner. The telescoping narrative device is in fact a telescoping visual device as well; Anderson shot the film in three aspect ratios, to align each historical period with the look of movies made at that time. This guy!

The aspect-ratio thing isn't the only device at work either. Anderson is all about tricks and tinsel: At the Grand Budapest, you'll find voiceover interacting with lines of dialogue. You'll find a single flagship sequence devoted to a string of succinct phone calls with concierges across the globe — an absolute festival of cameos. You'll find generally sophisticated cinematography and the finest scene decoration Hollywood has to offer. You'll find more colors and textures and costumes and props than Disneyland.

Fiennes is spot-on as the meticulous and sexually adventurous concierge, and the enormous cast of Anderson regulars, (Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Ed Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Jeff Goldblum, Owen Wilson, to name a few) plus a number of newcomers (Wilkinson, Law, Abraham, Saoirse Ronan) happily dramatize this hypersensory explosion.

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