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Wes Anderson can be an acquired taste. Settling on gathering enjoyment from his films can come after much deliberation as to whether he’s serious about the utterly finicky nature he employs in his chosen colour palettes, set construction, camera movements and scrupulous plot details. But his films carry far more value than the kind of hipster magnetism that seemingly oozes out of them.

Though what is truly surprising is how well received most of his films have become. From a modern sensibility, with The Darjeeling Limited to Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson reveals his taste and proclivity for classic Busby Berkeley comedy as well as consistently dapper and learned characters whose knowledge and literacy of the western canon runs into abnormal levels of familiarity.

In Anderson’s latest offering, The Grand Budapest Hotel, he’s created a film that offers much more in complexity, whether pertaining to his spiraling downward narrative beginning with his central character simply called Writer (played by both Jude Law and Tom Wilkinson) or his adoption of certain thematic cues of historical value (including goosestepping fascist soldiers and menacing Berlin Wall era politics).

The Good

When I sat in a screening for The Grand Budapest Hotel, I was sitting in a room filled with critics. On the one hand it’s intriguing to watch a movie with the people who shape the initial cultural perception of a film. How they react to a film usually is a surreal experience, especially when their reactions don’t translate into their final critiques, and it was in Anderson’s that I heard something that seldom ever happens during screenings: laughter. What Anderson’s new film succeeds at rather frequently is adding a grander sense of comedy to his often tightly wound worlds filled with introverted eccentrics.

Though as Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) begins retelling the tale of the Grand Budapest during its heyday, and namely through the Grand Budapest’s most colourful occupant, the ever abuzz, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), we as an audience get the sense that this is much more than a story of a wild goose chase for a prized painting, but one of melancholy and manners. How a world awash in order and sophistication many seemed to enjoy was gone before anyone really knew it was no longer there.

Source: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Source: Fox Searchlight Pictures

While skittering across countries in motorcycles, sleds and automobiles, Anderson maintains his usual quirky atmosphere. A scene involving a prison break with miniature hammers and chisels might be for the record the most Wes Anderson-y moment in the film. It’s a moment that is not endemic of the rest of the comedy presented in The Grand Budapest Hotel, but it is a scene which gallantly shows off how ardently Anderson likes constructed scenes where every motion and operation is meticulously detailed from a blueprint.

The Bad (or not so much)

While Anderson cloisters his films in a sort of guarded intellectualism, what The Grand Budapest Hotel does, with its marzipan colour palettes and shifting aspect ratios, is add a sense of history compounded upon the already dense plot lines and character flourishes. This isn’t uniquely indicative of all Anderson’s films, and never on this scale, but as a film maker, Anderson doesn’t pander. His films are uniquely his own and he always employs a nimble wit with each outing.

Universal praise is often uncommon in critical consensus and The Grand Budapest Hotel has received its fair share of close readings. What Anderson offers in The Grand Budapest Hotel is an open world, even when its thematic content can seem densely packed with familial purity and honorable dedication to a vocation, these make up just half of the film’s thematic enterprise. Anderson’s careful balance between adventure, the bond between the new lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori) and M. Gustave, and the themes imparted relating loss and melancholy still need to cohere into a relevant story. It often does. Anderson picks from Preston SturgesHoward Hawks and Gregory La Cava and imbues those directors central sensibilities to his own work. Films like The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom also often expressed the same remorseful sentiments as The Grand Budapest Hotel for lost worlds where elegance and function was the order of the day.

source: Fox Searchlight Pictures

source: Fox Searchlight Pictures

But Anderson’s most dense piece of film is one that takes a fair amount of influence from one of its largest inspirational debts: Stefan Zweig.

On The Influence of Stefan Zweig

Stefan Zweig was a European novelist whose works were once widely distributed throughout the western world. If the name doesn’t ring any bells that wouldn’t be uncommon. Anderson’s film credits Zweig’s works as inspiration for The Grand Budapest Hotel and he’s also claimed that he outright has stolen from Zweig’s works. If meant in jest, it’s also rather a kind gesture. Zweig, who committed suicide with his second wife in Petropolis, Brazil, wrote novels which were unconcerned with the degradation of societal values. Since he was born into wealthy means, as the son of an industrialist, Zweig had no need to write about themes that left him unphased.

However, much of Zweig’s oeuvre often details the crass takeover of the Nazi regime during the 1940’s as well as a time before, when such grim concerns were just over the political horizon. In his autobiography, The World of YesterdayZweig writes of his encounters with historical luminaries like Theodore Herzl and Richard Strauss. The impressions he leaves in that detailed autobiography, depicting his friendships and political ideologies, are something that Anderson weaves into The Grand Budapest Hotel with great ease.

source: Fox Searchlight Pictures

source: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Anderson has claimed coming across Zweig’s books in Paris and that his inspiration for characters and story stem centrally from Zweig’s work. Stories such as The Star Above the Forest, whose main character is a man of impeccable taste, find their descriptions of finery and values imbued into the characters who inhabit The Grand Budapest Hotel. Similarly, M. Gustave is brought to life as a poetry reciting, polyamorous lover of elderly and a man who has a keen sense of order much like the character in The Star Above the ForestZweig remained passionate in his fiction, though he committed suicide, it’s Zweig’s romanticism which Anderson makes ample use of.


Is The Grand Budapest Hotel one of Wes Anderson’s best? Maybe so. It’s definitely close. The composition of shots from the long densely composed tracking shots and the rather liberally ornate world elicits memories of old Hollywood sets and all their detailed grandeur. The film is open to the broadest style of comedy that Anderson has wielded yet and The Grand Budapest Hotel offers a delectable treat which matches the kind of scrumptious looking pastries from Mendl’s (a pastry shop where Zero meets his love interest played by Saoirse Ronan).

Anderson’s personal style of comedy and film making is strongly suited to depicting tension between unconventional groups of beings, personal loss and upper class values. Even as The Grand Budapest Hotel closes on Mr. Moustafa’s estimation of M. Gustave, the statement  remains just as pertinent to Anderson’s personal film making approach: “To be frank, I think his world had vanished long before he entered it. But he sustained the illusion with marvelous grace.”

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The Grand Budapest Hotel 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)


Cast:  ,  a.o.

Screenplay: Wes Anderson (story and screenplay), Hugo Guinness (story), Stefan Zweig (inspiration)

Cinematography: Robert D. Yeoman

Genre: Comedy, Drama

100 minutes

IMDb | Trailer