Saturday, 22 March 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014, Wes Anderson)

The Grand Budapest Hotel seemed to promise acerbic whimsy to amuse a world facing hard and unwelcome truths, and Wes Anderson's film delivers satisfactorily. It might be surprisingly bloodthirsty for those beguiled by its world of courtesan au chocolat pastries, who don't anticipate the hammers and chisels within. Ralph Fiennes carries the focal role of M. Gustave without succumbing (as other actors one might imagine wielding his parfum would have done) to an excess of manner; Gustave is vain but his pettinesses serve the great narrative which is the ideal of civilisation he projects through the eponymous hotel. Anderson's pink and purple imagined pre-war (but which war?) Mitteleuropa (but which and whose Europa?) might irritate some with its denial of naturalism, but these are characters who dress in clothes the colours of exotic inks and speak within inverted commas or speech bubbles.  The 1930s of folklore is here, not far removed from the non-specific military manoeuvres of Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes; and the 1985 of the second layer of framing device (for this is a mutant garlic clove of a story, with three outer membranes and five captioned segments within) derives its browns and oranges from The Lives of Others. The paranoia about immigrants, a war in the East, the rich determined to stay rich at the expense of the culture they supposedly guaranteed, and a small country being annexed by its neighbour demonstrate that the pink-icing heaven (and the hotel is just that, staff and guests ascending from the grey streets of the town below through a 'magic door' and ornate funicular railway) whose destruction F. Murray Abraham's M. Moustafa relates to Jude Law's Young Writer is as much a fable of early twenty-first century anxieties as it is a lament for the rich and varied central Europe destroyed by Hitler, Stalin and their accomplices. There are enjoyable cameos from several familiar actors, especially Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton; a brutal enforcer from Willem Dafoe whose black comic excess is a harbinger of things to come in the film's beleaguered Republic of Zubrowka; and while it took me a little while to recognise Tony Revolori's Zero as the strong link in the chain that he is, Saoirse Ronan's Agatha is both recognisable as a remembered adolescent ideal of love and of an innocence preserved in memory despite the compromises of maturity.