07 April 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel

We went to see Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel Saturday night. While enjoyable and quite funny at times, it didn't quite measure up to my expectations. With the exception of Jeff Goldblum (whose voice makes me reflexively recall his dorkish role in Jurassic Park), the acting was superb. Anderson's direction oscillated between mostly delightful (recalling an adult version of The Fantastic Mr. Fox) and off-putting. Casting Tony Revolori as the young Zero Moustafa was perfect and Saoirse Roman as the object of his affections was excellent.

While no one should complain about Ralph Fiennes performance as Gustave H., I thought that the inconsistencies of his character were distracting. On the one hand, Gustave H. was the consummate concierge, serving his guests to the utmost with perfect fin de si├Ęcle aplomb. On the other, he was contemporary crude as he dealt with the increasingly deadly consequences of his rakish behavior. Perhaps Anderson meant to say that the bipolar personality of Gustave H. reflected his bisexuality but whatever the reason, I found it distracting.

The layered textuality of film is quite interesting. The movie opened with a young girl venturing into a decaying Jewish cemetery in a fictional Eastern European (but Alpine!) city on a cold autumn day with a book under her arm. She stands briefly before the grave of "The Author" before sitting to read the book. It is in that reading, an account of The Author's visit to the Grand Budapest Hotel in the not-too-distant past and his over-dinner reminiscences with the now-aged Zero Moustafa about his experiences in the 1930s, that the balance of the film is formed. We thus have what appears to be fictional film of the true account of a fictional author.

But that's not all. In the closing credits we see that Anderson credits the film to a real author, Stefan Zweig. Zweig was an Austrian Jew, an aesthete, and a well-know pre-WWII author who committed suicide in 1942 out of despair over the collapse of European culture. In some respects, therefore, Zweig was the inspiration for both Gustave H. and The Author. Just one more layer of intertextuality!

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a good movie. Not a great one to be sure but one filled with fine acting, interesting directing, and a deeply textured approach to the art of film making.

1 comment:

  1. I very much enjoyed the movie. Perhaps my favorite in the last few years. It was a sad, but beautiful, portrayal of the human condition--the theme of decay you alluded to. We have an age in which the characters no longer belong a la Lord of the Rings but this time the elves cannot sail west (but maybe a glimpse of this; we are encountering the story long after the characters are gone).

    Throughout the film I was thinking of a passage from Chesterton's Orthodoxy: "All conservatism is based upon the idea that if you leave things alone you leave them as they are. But you do not. If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change. If you leave a white post alone it will soon be a black post. If you particularly want it to be white you must be always painting it again; that is, you must be always having a revolution."