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The Grand Budapest Hotel
Image: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Ralph Finnes in 'The Grand Budapest Hotel'
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Our Rating
3½ Stars - Good
Average Rating
 
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Mpaa Rating
R (For language, some sexual content and violence.)
Genre
Directed By
Wes Anderson
Run Time
1 hour 40 minutes
Cast
Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody
Theatre Release
March 28, 2014 by Fox Searchlight Pictures

Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel is a joy to watch.

There's probably other, better opening review paragraphs that would give you context into how the movie was made, and plug it into some sort of higher-order chronology of Anderson's filmography (which has now officially tipped over into "prolific").

Adrien Brody in 'The Grand Budapest Hotel'Image: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Adrien Brody in 'The Grand Budapest Hotel'

But actually watching the movie trumps all those concerns, especially with Grand Budapest—precisely because this is perhaps the most narratively involuted film that Anderson has crafted to date.

I'll try and present this as clearly as possible: the film opens with a girl reading a book, titled The Grand Budapest Hotel (Layer 1). TGBH is, within the universe of the film, a book written by the unnamed Author, played by Tom Wilkinson (Layer 2). Tom Wilkinson then recounts his visit as a young man to the bi-eponymous Grand Budapest Hotel, his younger self portrayed by Jude Law—this is Layer 3. Jude Law's character encounters the notoriously mysterious Mr. Mustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who then recounts to Law how he came to run the hotel—back when he was known only as Zero (Tony Revolori), and worked for the concierge-savant Mr. Gustave (Ralph Finnes)—Layer 4.

Generally, the more "meta" a narrative is—that is, the more layered, convoluted, self-aware of its own fictitiousness—the more self-indulgent the movie seems. But Grand Budapest is none of those things. It's somehow relentlessly clear (somehow the above paragraph makes much more intuitive sense when you watch the movie, not less), beautifully stylized, wonderfully executed. It's hard to explain in non-hyperbolic terms why this is such an achievement.

Perhaps the clearest explanation is that The Grand Budapest Hotel feels like the first film in years whose formal intricacies complement its content, rather than compose it. In other words: all the fancy stuff Anderson does behind the camera—the divisive stuff that I felt was almost gratuitous in Moonrise Kingdom, the meticulous self-aware artsy-ness of the whole endeavor—actually serves the story he wants to tell, not the other way around.

The first thing I heard about the movie that made my ears perk up was that the different timelines would be shot in different aspect ratios (most prominently different in Mustafa's narrative, where the camera resembles an Instagram-like square), signaling to the audience when what ishappening where. I suspected this would be just a distracting trick, or something that's just "kind of neat."

Owen Wilson, Tom Wilkinson, and Tony Revolori in 'The Grand Budapest Hotel'Image: Martin Scali / Fox Searchlight Pictures

Owen Wilson, Tom Wilkinson, and Tony Revolori in 'The Grand Budapest Hotel'

But instead of just doling out nice tricks to make the audience feel smart, Anderson has reasons for doing what he does. Each layer of the narrative succumbs to an Inception-like stylization the further down you go, starting with the fairly realistic Girl in the opening scene, progressing down to Mustafa's memory.

All of that is rendered in vivid reds and purples. Violence and action are animated with the halting unreality of Fantastic Mr. Fox. In Jude Law's character's memory, the lighting shifts dramatically every time Something Important is about to happen; Wilkinson's older variation of the same character addresses the camera head-on, mimicking cinematically the feel of reading a book.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel