The Grand Budapest Hotel, by Albert W. Vogt III

One of these days I will get around to reviewing Moonrise Kingdom (2012). I am not sure why I have not done so already. When I am feeling as I am these days, which is to say sentimental with a shade of blue, I often turn to two of my favorite Wes Anderson films, and indeed the only ones with which I am familiar: the one already mentioned and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). I believe the fact that I have limited myself to these two allows me to say that I am not the biggest Wes Anderson fan, though I do enjoy the ones I have seen. Perhaps the reason I have not discussed them yet is because they both contain certain tiny elements that, while not overwhelming and are momentary, I nonetheless find troubling. Today I will break down The Grand Budapest Hotel. When I figure out a way to reconcile my thoughts on the suggested under-age sex in Moonrise Kingdom, I will convey my thoughts on it.

A cool feature to keep in mind about The Grand Budapest Hotel while watching it is that it is a flashback within a flashback within a flashback. The first level of these dimensions is where we open, with a young girl opening a book next to a bust of the Author done in his elder years (Tom Wilkinson). We cut to him and he begins narrating a story that was told to him when he was the younger Author (Jude Law) while he was staying at the title resort in 1968. While there, he encounters the hotel’s owner, the aged Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) and they strike up the kind of passing friendship as one does while on vacation. Despite owning the establishment, Zero chooses to sleep in a tiny servant’s quarter. Over dinner one night, the Author asks Zero about this curious fact, and thus we get the third level of our flashback and where the film spends most of its time. Here we meet the young Zero, a newly employed Lobby Boy at the Grand Budapest Hotel. He falls under the direct tutelage of the hotel’s famous concierge, Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes). Zero is eager to learn, and Gustave is eager to teach, and this forms a close bond between the two that last through the movie. Other events strengthen it, such as when Gustave travels to the home of his deceased (and quite old) lover, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton). He arrives in time to hear the reading of the will, which includes bequeathing the famous “Boy With Apple” painting, a piece of art that is virtually priceless. Her son Dimitri (Adrien Brody), though, dislikes Gustave intensely, and tries to have the concierge arrested. In fleeing, Zero helps Gustave steal the painting, and they make a pact with each other that seals their friendship. It is tested when Dmitri finally succeeds in having Gustave thrown in prison. In turn, along with the help of his girlfriend Agatha (Saoirse Ronan), Zero aids his employer in escaping from prison and clearing his name. The last part of this endeavor involves tracking Madame D.’s former butler, Serge X (Mathieu Amalric). Serge X knows that not only is Gustave innocent of murdering Madame D., but also that there is a second will that Dmitri wishes to keep hidden. Upon receiving this information, Serge X is killed by Dmitri’s henchman, J. G. Jopling (Willem Dafoe), and they must make it back to the Grand Budapest Hotel before he does. Thankfully (for them) Jopling dies in the process, and they return home to find it occupied by the army preparing for war. Dmitri is there as well, and in the ensuing kerfuffle over the painting the second will is revealed taped to the back of the canvas. As it turns out, Madame D. had left everything to Gustave, including the hotel (she had secretly been its owner). Unfortunately, he did not live much longer as he ends up being shot while defending Gustave against the army who is suspicious of immigrants (think Nazis, and you get the gist). When that happens, everything goes to Zero. From there, the film draws us back through the various flashbacks and concludes.

As I mentioned early on, there are a few things that I find troubling about The Grand Budapest Hotel. For starters, while it is certainly not a pornographic movie, there are a few seconds of what are basically pornography. These are early on, and one is a flash of some, let us just say “unconventional,” love making between Gustave and one of the hotel’s elderly female clients. The other is the painting Zero replaces “Boy With Apple” with in Madame D.’s home, which features two women in a roughly similar pose as the previously mentioned scene. Given how briefly the camera lingers on these images, they could have been taken out of the film completely without taking away from the overall tone of the film. As it is, it is kind of like a little kid finding a dirty magazine and trying to hide it from his parents. Just leave it alone, Wes, your beautifully shot and acted film can withstand not having these kinds of warts. The other is the character of Gustave. He is not the main character, but rather a sort of teacher for Zero in a Obi-Wan Kenobi-esque mold. In this sense, to this reviewer, it is the teacher that should hold the moral high ground, thus inspiring the student to be better. While I will admit that the friendship between Zero and Gustave is quite real, and the older “gentleman” does lay down his life for the young man, I find his irreverence (while funny at times) somewhat grating.

I wonder if Wes Anderson was Catholic. The two films of his I mentioned both contain climactic scenes that take place in very evidently Catholic churches, and The Grand Budapest Hotel is no exception. Given the overall content of his films, I would guess that his affiliation with the Faith is in the past tense. But neither does he poke fun at Catholicism, as one could expect from a film that borders on being a comedy. Instead, when you see any reference to religion, it is more like a charming relic of a bygone era. I have to confess that one of the reasons I love being a Catholic is because I am part of traditions that stretch back millennia to the time of Christ. Unlike what Anderson seems to believe, such things have a place today. Faith is not for nostalgia purposes, it is meant to be experienced in the here and now.

If you can get past the negative aspects of The Grand Budapest Hotel I commented on above, then the film gets my highest recommendation. You will laugh. You may even cry. And most of all, Anderson draws you into a fanciful world that is both real and sublime. Every time I watch this one in particular, the word that always comes to mind is “stylish.” When viewing it you are transported, and the experience is quite satisfying. If it did not have those certain parts, it would be perfect.

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