Monday, 28 April 2014

Grand Budapest Hotel

I had my doubts about Grand Budapest Hotel, because I'd read it was inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig, who I'm not that fond of. However it lacks entirely his prissy melancholy. Instead it is a kind of caper movie, full, I'm guessing, with references to the golden age of moviemaking for cinema buffs to spot and endless hidden meanings - not least of course the idea that while we all lead our lives consumed by frivolity and individual desires, the world can fall apart without us noticing, (and can something be read into the reduction of the hotel's full name to a mere GB when at its most grimy and reduced?)

Leaving all that aside, however, the film also works wonderfully as pure entertainment, in the way that old Hollywood gems like High Society do. The rich detail of Anderson's settings are as fascinating as Tintin illustrations and the way the narrative is framed as a story told in a book by a writer who is reporting something told to him by an old man remembering his youth made me think of Patrick Leigh Fermor and his two great travel books, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. The imaginary setting of the film bears traces of Leigh Fermor's Central European haunts and both his story and Anderson's are told from the perspective of someone looking back from the wreckage at his memories of an innocent world. The reliance of the main characters on romantic poetry in times of crisis is hugely appealing and F Murray Abraham's final observation about Monseur Gustave deeply poignant.

The film is visually rich - you could stop every frame and try to drink in each detail, without getting bored - and lighthearted with an undertow of melancholy. If you like Tintin's King Ottokar's Sceptre, it should appeal to you (and come to think of it was Wes Anderson's earlier film The Life Aquatic also influenced by another Tintin story, the one with Professor Calculus's shark-shaped underwater craft and the Thomson twins venturing into the sea in old-fashioned divers' costumes?) Its only flaws for me were a) the slightly preachy refugee speech in which Anderson has Monsiuer Gustave seeming to say that it is okay to abuse migrants, unless they are genuine refugees, b) the balalaikas plus jolly little cartoon Cossack at the end of the credits - even if they are meant to refer to the eventual takeover of the Russians, the wrong note is struck, as there was nothing jolly about that development - and c) the odd way in the scene in the hotel's Turkish baths that Jude Law's face is crystal clear but F Murray Abraham's is slightly blurred - again, possibly this is supposed to indicate something, but I thought it was strange and distracting.

But never mind - it's a wonderful film. I've seen it twice and I'd be happy to see it again.


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