The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) – Once upon a Time

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People only ever remember the grand moments far and in between their lives. Life is but a series of moments with a few defining ones and the rest existing because of the great excursions in the few moments that shape us as who we are and define our lives from here until one remains alive in the memories of those who care. Quite fitting, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a story about such moments from such times about certain people who dared to think higher, and about a fragile period in history—only told in a romanticized manner by the unsanctioned King of Romanticism in movies, Wesley Anderson.

The Grand Budapest Hotel starts with a statue of a deceased author at a cemetery. A girl, carrying the book The Grand Budapest Hotel is seen paying homage to The Author. As she dwells into the book, the story flows along narrated by The Author (Tom Wilkinson). Soon we reach the fictional nation of the Republic of Zubrowka, in a dreaded condition due to the savaged war, and usher into The Grand Budapest Hotel, bereft of the charm, as The Author, now young (Jude Law), enquires about an old man meditating in silence on his chair—amidst the vast space of the hotel.

Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), his name and as it stands, the owner of The Grand Budapest Hotel; The Author comes to know about this hermit, who lives as a meek in one of the staff quarters despite owning the hotel. The camera rolls to that room—a small, insignificant hermitage of Zero, but with a legacy unparalleled dating back to the heyday of Grand Budapest Hotel, when he was a tiny lobby boy (Toni Revolori as the young Zero). Zero Moustafa invites The Author for dinner and with this excuse, he would finally tell his story, the story of the grand hotel—revisiting the life and times of the greatest concierge of the hotel, the man, the myth, perhaps legend, Monsieur Gustave H. (played by the unmistakable Ralph Fiennes).

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Travelling through three generations in a mere 100 minutes, The Grand Budapest Hotel gives us a sneak peek of Europe at its most happening age. The story moves from the modern age of democracy going back to the fringes of communism and further back into an age of military power, class distinctions, and the peak of bourgeois culture—when riches was heritage and power was inheritance. Amongst all these heavy dynamics of politics and ideologies, we have M. Gustave H., managing The Grand Budapest Hotel—the most happening hotel in all of Europe. This mystical concierge who is also prone to loving embraces with elderly beauties, rich and wealthy, seeking love only this man could bring to their empty safe boxes, Grand Budapest Hotel is nostalgic—expositing art and sophistication.

These melodious visual hymns deflect the serious topics of human bonding, the frivolous nature of social norms, and the constraints of time into a well-packaged crime caper satirizing the ever-changing dynamics of society and showing life in its mutability and the triumph of moments over the whole, quality over quantity, and depth over superficiality. Nobody quite paints such stories as Wes Anderson himself and in this fairytale about larger than life characters, Anderson draws a picture of European society just around the same period as the second manifesto of the Surrealistic Movement appeared.

The first glimpses of The Grand Budapest Hotel take us to a visual ride of the almost surreal landscape of the hotel and the surroundings of this state of the art luxury repose. The camera flies past these vibrant scenes and settles on the dreamlike railway soaring towards the peak, the hotel itself, almost signifying the heights of this grand hotel in comparison to the lowlands of the ordinary. Yet, The Grand Budapest Hotel is specialized in accepting the affluent as guests and the prosperous as friends akin to the social traditions of the 30s when the gulf between the oppressor and the oppressed was as wide as the elegance of the grand hotel and the coarseness of reality.

Wes Anderson’s artistic palette once again works extra time in glorifying the, almost, absurd drama—nothing more than a crime caper, as a genre, but richer and deeper as a cinema, as a story. Nostalgia almost seems to be the theme of this movie, with Anderson paying a tribute to the ultimate dysfunctional story, that of Europe itself. In fact, the movie is one for those who love to live in the past. Zero Moustafa, in the story, clings on to the best days of his life and keeps hold of his cherished, The Grand Budapest Hotel, despite the pangs of communism destroying the once central hub of joy and hospitality. The Author pays his version of remembrance to Grand Budapest Hotel and the great lives around this grand hotel. As a viewer, one finds many such levels of individual nostalgia in this embroidery knit with various sentiments, values, and moments—almost defining the lives and times of the people in the mesmeric world of the movie (shot exclusively in Germany).

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The splendor of the characters in the movie is almost like those legends people hear with each person considering himself or herself an authority on the subject. Summoning their version with panache, as if they were present when all that occurred, yet due to its mythical status, every individual has something to offer and more often, it would be worthy of lending an ear to in an attempt to grasp all the legends surrounding this docile place as it turned out, but once the beam of glory. The same enthusiasm is present in every frame; Anderson bringing his signature style and giving life and vigor to each scene, whilst concealing the deeper meanings behind the majestic mise en scène and the humorous comedy of errors.

Under these masks, we find the other secrets of human solidarity and the value of acceptance and friendship flying high, but masterfully, the themes of degeneration and innocence—that has always remained with Anderson—finds ample space in this magnum opus. Perhaps why Grand Budapest Hotel is so alluring is due to the inherent yearning of the past and the wish to grope with past glories, even in darkness, viewers themselves are lost in this mesmeric realm rafting in the scenic storm with quirky characters, themselves vain but adorably inspiring.

The story of this absurd movie is so very simple, yet the contrasting elements of seriousness hidden almost propels the movie as one bewildering piece of art, where one cannot comprehend whether to smile in appreciation or frown at the emancipation of such glorious times. Wes Anderson sets a subtle, light tone and adds his own spice to a movie that is simply about proving a man’s innocence, but you are left to ponder because it does contain so much than mere jailbreak that it’s almost hypnotic in the way it draws you to into the story, into that era. All such conceptions were squashed when I realized the man behind Anderson’s inspiration, Stefan Zweig—the great European writer from the pre-Nazi era, perhaps stretching to the Nazi era during an age of stupendous literary movements in Europe. Without any wondering, the philosophical tilt of this rather metaphorical story is inspired from Zweig’s own psychoanalytical interests mixed with realism, the longings of Anderson, and their ethereal collaboration—ironical on its own.

Common in Anderson’s previous movies too, Grand Budapest Hotel feels like one of those Shakespearean plays, but perhaps more so than ever. The bittersweet ending not merely one of the devices, the plotting is in a style Shakespeare structured his plays, and the rich ambience so mirroring the operas and the staging—almost like uttering poetry—Grand Budapest Hotel feels like a rehash of Shakespeare’s great plays on the screen. With the intelligent wits and the spiky twists and turns before the great climax, the story, apart from the alluring visuals, is engaging until the end and when it does end, a positive vibe ensues. How fitting, the verses define this movie—a lyrical staging on the screen, and a walking tribute to those who love to look back.

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Grand Budapest Hotel is a treat to watch and has everything you’d expect from a Wes Anderson film. Alluring visuals, assorted characters busy in their own unions, a time and space in oblivion, a unique variation of aspects ratios adhering to the era on-screen, and a humorous spin of an otherwise grave topic—it is picturesque showcasing the photography of a painter and the storytelling quirks of a neo-Shakespearean. Undoubtedly one of Anderson’s finest attempts and last but definitely not the least, a paramount performance by Ralph Fiennes mixing humor with panache with hospitality with wits with ardor and with bravura, one of the best from Fiennes and how lucky that he got the role of Gustave H. instead of the original choice, Johnny Depp.

Watch it to experience it, absorb it to realize it—Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel brings back memories of the glory of Romanticism.

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