The Grand Budapest Hotel is, no matter your taste in movies, a real treat. The art direction and expansive framing of the hotel sequences in its earlier moments might be reminiscent of the Coen’s work on Barton Fink. Later, too you may be reminded of Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s direction of Delicatessen. More directly you are reminded of The Fantastic Mr Fox, Moonrise Kingdom, and even The Royal Tenenbaums to some extent. It is clear Wes Anderson is influenced by all manner of art work and literature though, and with it he runs at his own pace, nobody else’s.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is like an immaculately compiled scrapbook, kept in pristine condition over many years. At times you are inside a moving painting, yet you often feel very still. There is a puppet theatre about Anderson’s direction, as well as a tranquil beauty in his grounded canvas. He has his characters, I noticed, never quite taking things seriously in their eyes and faces. But this works, in his comedy, in his bleakness, in his drama.
I have been in awe of how a live action director can carry over his unique fluidity and style into animation with The Fantastic Mr Fox. I suspect there are very few who have the capacity to get to grips with that. It dawns on you that Anderson is perhaps more of a cartoonist in fact, that his live action direction very much incorporates that of making an animation. And he is meticulous with it.
Towards the end of The Grand Budapest Hotel, the older Zero (F. Murray Abraham) straightens the boy with the apple painting on the wall. As an audience we have already noticed the painting is not aligning with the rest of the movie frame, but Anderson embodies his exquisite attention to detail into the narrative.
Let me assure you the following 10 aspects of The Grand Budapest Hotel I admired (spoilers ahead), I simply plucked from my memory. I am sure there are twenty, thirty more moments I could have mentioned. Not even including the terrific ensemble cast, or the movie’s era, the location appropriate score. I could go on…
In an attempt to rescue Agatha, who is hanging from outside the hotel, Zero also falls out the window, and finds himself hanging alongside her. They both soon lost their grips, and plummet, but are rescued themselves by landing into a hundred or more cake boxes in the truck Zero and Gustave arrived in. Zero and Agatha are reunited, and they hug. Perfect.
When the inspector and his many colleagues arrive at the hotel to arrest Gustave for the murder of Madame D, Gustave is at first seemingly humble in his understanding of the situation at hand, before casually turning and running off. He is pursued, but the pacing and timing of it so lethargic it is immediately more chucklesome than serious – and you are reminded of the old black and white slapstick movies, which we have become accustomed as a part of Anderson’s directorial style.
Whether obvious or not, Anderson not only frames pretty much everything seamlessly, he also has characters every now and again framed as though they are in a painting themselves – be it through door windows in large kitchens or prison cells. At one point near the end of the movie, the inspector’s head appears in the corner of the frame, and he turns toward us as if not sure what this picture is about or if in fact he should be in it. It’s a moment funny enough to give you the urge to go back and see it again immediately.
After giving Zero an endless list of errands, Gustave halts his obedient departure to suspiciously ask “Who are you?”. The two of them promptly turn back into the hotel as the new lobby boy is interviewed amidst passing interactions with various hotel staff and guests. As Zero answers the quick-fire interview questions about previous experience or education, Gustave appears to recap his answers as “zero” while making notes as they stroll. That is until asked about his family, Zero hesitates to give the answer of “zero”. The interview appears to draw to a close when Gustave simply asks “Why here?”, to which Zero responds “Its the The Grand Budapest, it’s an institution”. “Very good” Gustave nods, impressed. They will become friends. The whole oddball, but fluent, sequence could be an Anderson short film all on its own.
When Zero was not able to fulfil his side of the prison escape plan, which included him finding them a safe house and remembering to bring the fragrance, Gustave shows his frustration by belittling Zero’s background, wondering aloud why he would be here in the first place. Zero tells him straight up that it is because of the war, and that his family were killed. Gustave is completely regretful and apologetic, to which the forgiving Zero says they are brothers. It’s the most compassionate, moving scene of the movie – and is anything but out of place.
As the original narrator, and author of this grand tale, talks about the inventiveness of a writer’s work, he is interrupted by a young boy who caps him a couple of times with a toy gun, to which he tries to object. It is the first laugh out loud moment of the movie, and captures Anderson’s tongue-in-cheek self-reference and comedy.
The prison break sequence is to rival The Shawshank Redemption surely. Not the same impact considering the genre, but still. Having been chipping away under their cell table for who knows how long, the five of them (Gustavo and his four cell mates, including a hairless Harvey Keitel whose pecs seem to quiver when he speaks) make their escape. Lowering through the hole, making a dash for it, then one is lowered via the Dumbwaiter, and they all have a hand in carrying what could be a thirty foot ladder, before lowering it through the cell halls (seems like they are going backwards right?). As they all climb down the ladder, an inmate spots them and jeopardizes their escape until his cell mate silences him, surely thankful to Gustave for salting his slop earlier. They then have to pass through the guard bunk room, and they do so by swing across the ceiling, crawling under their beds, and leaping over them, before sawing their way through the iron bars, lowering a flimsy ladder they have clearly made themselves, going back into the prison via the laundry room, where they find guards playing cards, lose a man, before appearing from the drains where Zero is waiting for them.
Gustave and Zero are at first fleeing, and then find themselves chasing the henchman, to their bemusing realization. From taking instructions to take this cable car or put on these robes, to what looks not dissimilar to competing in various winter Olympic games. A thrilling sequence.
The string of sucker punches are so mechanically slapstick, and hilariously staged, like an old wind up toy, that you can’t help but laugh.
When Gustave sends the hotel a message from prison, it is still shot as though the message is delivered sermon-style, with Zero reading to the hotel staff, while back in prison Gustave reads aloud his note with an audience of inmates and prison guards behind him. The juxtaposing color and tone of the warm lit hotel and greyer prison setting with the sprinkling of snow flakes, is a vivid and affecting contrast.