Wes Anderson strikes again in this fast-paced and stylistically beautiful adventure that takes place in a bygone era, not only in terms of the time it depicts but also in the style in which it is depicted. An all-star cast led by a brilliant Ralph Feinnes bring us a visual feast tied together with some very strong storytelling.
Zero is the lobby boy who is taken under the wing of Gustave, the concierge who unexpectedly becomes the inheritor of a priceless painting on the death of its aristocratic owner – a long time patron of the hotel which shares its name with the film. Although set in a fictional country at a fictional time, the historical backdrop is unmistakably the early days of Nazism in the Bavarian alps. The niggling sensation of the end of a golden age, and the onset of something much colder lends credence to the characters who steadfastly cling to the old ways, alongside their dignity.
The story is simple enough – the painting is stolen, and then it is recovered. Much hilarity ensues in the chase which takes the viewer around the contient, and through locations so fantastic that you often question the reality of it all. Indeed, the reality of the film-world is souped-up and over the top, with each character being a mild cariacature down to the very last detail.
Celebrities make cameo appearances everywhere, and it is a tribute to Anderson’s abilities that they do not at any time overshadow the leading characters, nor do they overshadow their own small parts. Tilda Swinton in particular is barely recognisable in her brief appearance. The standout performance is newcomer Saoirse (pronounced seer-sha) Ronan who plays Zero’s love interest, and manages to shine brightly even while surrounded by some serious acting talent.
Everything about the production is brilliant, and accordinly it has received oscar nominations for best screenplay, cinematography, costume, makeup, and production design (as well as music and editing). Each shot of the film can be paused and would make a photograph worthy of a gallery. The animated sequences, while sometimes vaguely pythonesque, blend with the live action more seamlessly than you would expect. Rare for recent films, Grand Budapest Hotel swaps ultra-realism for a look that I might describe as “impressionist”.
It all ends a little bit too soon, and perhaps even slightly abrubtly but this film keeps to a good length and never feels too long and drawn out, unlike many big Hollywood films these days *cough* The Hobbit *cough*. In the end, the themes do come together, and the threads to tie themselves up, but at a cost. And even though you theoretically know what’s going to happen right from the beginning, you’re still glued to the edge of your seat right until the end. (most of the film takes place in flashback, and watch for aspect ratio changes to indicate which time period you’re in)
Since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (I’m not making that up) consists overwhelmingly of bitter old men, I highly doubt that this film will win best picture. It deserves to win many of the production awards, especially production design and costumes. Out of all the best picture nominees, this is certainly the “happiest” one, and definitely one of the most fun films to watch. Kind of like a road trip with operatic performances set in the mid 1930s.