'The Grand Budapest Hotel' is Surreal Madcap Insanity

'The Grand Budapest Hotel' is Surreal Madcap Insanity
(L-R) Tony Revolori and Saorise Ronan in The Grand Budapest Hotel. (Fox Searchlight Pictures) Long story short: The Grand Budapest Hotel is Wes Anderson's most experimental, surreal comedy yet, endowed with all the trimmings of the filmmaker's best work.

The Grand Budapest Hotel will remind you of: Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Royal Tenenbaums, Dragon Gate Inn, The Shining, Delicatessen, Amélie, The Science of Sleep, The Shawshank Redemption, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

Review: All of Wes Anderson's films defy'The Grand Budapest Hotel' is Surreal Madcap Insanity
reality. They're cinematic impressionism, comedies for the most part, that sweep us away like a daydream. The writer/director's latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel, may be his dreamiest work yet. Using narratives within narratives, Anderson reaches Inception-like levels of storytelling. He also does something else Christopher Nolan would approve of. He uses different aspect ratios depending on the time period. Combined with the director's trademark editing to dialogue, his use of stop-motion animation, and an ensemble cast that only adds to the fantasy, Anderson's created his own kind of Lewis Carroll parallel universe. He's left reality completely behind this time. 

The Grand Budapest is a madman of a film that begins quietly in a courtyard. A young girl holds a memoir by "The Author" (Tom Wilkinson). She sits, reads, and we're transported back in time to the '60s when the writer visited Eastern Europe and the Grand Budapest Hotel, located in the Republic of Zubrowka. The writer (Jude Law), now a young man, can't help but notice the hotel has seen better days. He soon meets the owner, Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who recounts how the hotel came to him and why he loves it so dearly.

Anderson takes us back in time once more, as Moustafa tells the tale of his days as a lobby boy (Tony Revolori) under the guidance of the hotel's famous concierge, Gustav H. (Ralph Fiennes), who has made the job an art form. The film transitions to a 4:3 aspect ratio for this time period (1932), a decision that only adds to the fantastic quality of the filmmaking. I'm guessing Anderson wanted to use the old-timey format as an homage to the age, when films were made in square picture frames. The Grand Budapest, more than any other Anderson film, is like a painting. Each frame is delicately shot with careful marksmanship. 

Quickly, we're led on a virtual tour of the hotel, led by Gustav with the lobby boy, Zero, in tow. He gives him an informal job interview as assorted employees interrupt looking for Gustav's guidance. These side conversations are all bursts of Anderson's sense of humor, hilarious asides perfectly timed and executed at a furious speed. Fiennes, for all his otherworldly acting talents, has never shown the deft comic touch he does here. 

Adding to the fantasy, Anderson forsakes traditional establishing shots and gives the Grand Budapest an introduction worthy of the great buildings of film lore. The Overlook Hotel from The Shining is an immediate reference point but the reverence Anderson instills recalls Charles Foster Kane's Xanadu or Hitchcock's Manderley more than anything else. Using the methods he perfected in Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson and crew handmade an incredible miniature model of the Grand Budapest that's used for the wide exteriors. It sits, nestled between mountains like a magic kingdom, a fairy tale setting for Anderson's mythical story.

Inside the hotel, Gustav and Zero are interrupted by an assortment of rich older women who praise Gustav for his "exceptional service." The concierge reveals he moonlights as an escort of sorts to these special guests, including Madame D. (Tilda Swinton). "When you're young it's all filet mignon but as you get older you have to go for the cheaper cuts." He tells young Zero, who's incredulous by the revelation. As in Anderson's other films, the truth doubles a comic weapon for the writer/director. Honesty is frequently a shortcut to comedy and Anderson uses it wickedly.

A day or two later, Gustav learns Madame D. has passed away but she's left him a priceless painting "Boy with Apple" a development that irks Madame D.'s many family members who've all gathered together for the reading of the will. "Who's Gustav H?" One family member asks before Fiennes delivers, as a matter of fact, this line, "That's me, darling." While twirling his mustache and appearing from the back of the room. Infuriated, her son Dmitri (Adrian Brody) and his assassin (Willem Dafoe) frame Gustav for Madame D.'s murder and the delicate concierge is locked away in prison. But not before the painting has been hidden.

What ensues is a series of fantastic adventures as Zero and his girlfriend (Saorise Ronan) help Gustav and a crew of prison cronies escape from jail in glorious fashion. Free, and intent on proving his innocence, Gustav and Zero set out for a monastery where Serge X (Mathieu Amalric) can prove his alibi. But they also must evade Dafoe's assassin, Jopling, who would like nothing more than to bury them both. A chase ensues that sees all three characters jumping rooftops and racing down a mountain on skiis and a sled in an incredible sequence unlike any other in an Anderson film.

The Grand Budapest is huge entertainment. The script is exceptional, with each scene topped by the next. Anderson uses all of his trademark details. The film is split into four parts, similar to how The Royal Tenenbaums is pieced together. He uses epistolary conversation to drive the narrative. Visually, the art direction is overwhelming—in a good way. The game room is especially amazing: taxidermy, candelabras, and antler-legged desks. And every interior is awash in color, especially reds and pinks. Aside from the aspect ratio switching, Anderson uses spotlight frames and point of view shots to enhance certain details. Dolly tracks are used non-stop to huge comedic effect. The film is a circus of marvelous delights and the ringmaster has never been more insanely alive.

Senior Editor at Zimbio. I'll take Johnny Clay, the Rev. Harry Powell, and Annie Savoy. You can have the rest.