The Grand Budapest Hotel
Directed by Wes Andersen
‘Inspired by the works of Stefan Zweig’
Screenplay by Wes Anderson
Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave
Tony Revolori as Zero Mustafa in 1932
F. Murray Abraham as Zero Mustafa in 1968
Saoirse Ronan as Agatha
Tilda Swinton as Madame D.
Adrien Brody as Dmitri
Willem Dafoe as Jopling
Edward Norton as Henkels
Jeff Goldblum as Deputy Kovacs
Harvey Keitel as Ludwig
Jude Law as young writer in 1968
Tom Wilkinson as old writer now
Bill Murray as M. Ivan
Owen Wilson as M. Chuck
Two films in two days, both starting in Central Europe in the 1930s, and both filmed partly around Gorlitz in Saxony and featuring trains steaming through snowy landscapes. Probably the same train. Probably the same streets. Definitely the same German studio. This is a contrast to yesterday’s The Book Thief (LINKED). I wanted to see it after Camilla Long in The Sunday Times said “this is (Wes Andersen’s) sickliest since the idiotic gap-yah caper, The Darjeeling Limited.” As I’ve watched The Darjeeling Limited four or five times, and bought another four or five DVDs as gifts for friends, I’d count it as a favourite film, and it has nothing to do with gap years, and Ms. Long’s “gap-yah” Advanced RP British pronunciation joke seems to have nothing to do with a film about three Americans in their 30s. Perhaps she’s confusing it with another film about India, or people going somewhere abroad, or maybe she’s never seen it. Still, I always read her reviews because she is funny, and provocative and usually I can say if she dislikes it, I’ll love it. And she’s out on a limb here. But Adrian Brody (Dmitri), Owen Wilson (tiny cameo here) and Bill Murray (tiny cameo in both) all feature in The Darjeeling Limited. Adrian Brophy, as the nasty aristocratic heir, was fabulous in this.
Most other reviews of The Grand Budapest Hotel are four or five stars. I’m not an automatic Wes Andersen fan, though I have friends who are. But when he’s good, he’s very very good, which is why half of Hollywood lined up to play cameos in this one. Was it a “jolly”? Fly over to Germany, do your 30 second cameo and hang out with your pals? That aspect is definitely present in the film. I found the parade of major star 10-second cameos (Owen Wilson, Bill Murray) ultimately irritating. It is up its own fundament. Some of the cameos are not even very good. Four actors stood out: Ralph Fiennes (as M. Gustave), Tony Revolri (as young Mustafa), Then Adrien Brody and William Dafoe as the baddies. Tilda Swinton’s brief cameo as the 84 year old who leaves everything to M. Gustave is unrecognizable (and excellent). Jeff Goldblum is the lawyer, and is always good, as is Edward Norton as the police captain. Both are smallish parts for them. All the rest of the stars were along for the ride. It was mainly about Ralph Fiennes, a first-rate performance throughout as M. Gustave, the concierge.
The film tries to channel bits of The Pink Panther series with a soupçon of James Bond. It’s clear that Ralph Fiennes is the towering Peter Sellers role, and Willem Dafoe, as Jopling, combines the Pink Panther butler, with Bond villain sidekicks, like Oddjob. More strongly, given the snow, it channels Help! The Beatles silly caper film. Look at the long Winter Olympics chase scene. It’s derivative. I thought derivative of Wallace & Gromit at the chase point. The ice chase with M. Gustave and Mustafa superimposed on the sledge reminded me of stage pantomime, where the brokers’ men in Cinderella always do a scene sitting in a cardboard car with projected film behind them. The film uses deliberate artifice, like obviously painted mountains at just a few points too.
Worse. it’s snobbishly clever. Take when M. Gustave, Ralph Fiennes character, inherits the invaluable Dutch masterpiece The Boy With The Apple from the old aristocratic lady (Tilda Swinton) who he’s been screwing for years, into her eighties. M. Gustave and the young Zero Mustafa escape with the painting, replacing it with a dead ringer for an Egon Schiele lesbian / erotic painting (worth an absolute fortune). Then Dmitri (brilliantly played by Adrian Brody) destroys the Schiele in fury. To recognize that, you have to be more than somewhat into early 20th century Austrian painting. It’s a link with Stefan Zweig, whose novellas were Wes Anderson’s inspiration for the film. Both Zweig and Schiele were part of the same Viennese artistic set before and during World War I. A painting by Klimt (or a Klimt-like painting) is briefly seen in the background, also from the same era.
There is some heavy-handed allegory. The Grand Budapest Hotel logo is GB. GB … Great Britain, No? The young Mustafa is “the illegal immigrant.” Ralph Fiennes is the quintessential Englishman, unfailingly polite. I decided not to trace the allegory any further, but it is there. The Fascist troops are ZZ rather than SS.
We were in a third-full cinema. There were a couple of mild titters. There were no solid laughs whatsoever in the entire film. So while a visual delight (Anderson always finds a distinctive color palette), as a comedy, which is what they billed it as, it fell totally flat. It never found its pitch. I had no idea what it was aiming for. There were a dozen or more little bits I’d replay happily on DVD, and say “Isn’t that a great scene?’ ‘Wasn’t that a wonderful line?’ But the story failed to cohere. I have had this before with Wes Anderson: filming 5 star. Story? Incoherent and wildly derivative. Poor. one star.
Simply, as a film, in spite of so many good bits, it really didn’t work at all. I went out of the cinema thinking Camilla Long was way closer with her two star review than those sycophantic fours and fives elsewhere. Three stars (my first choice) errs on extremely generous. Whatever it was trying to do, it failed. Disappointing. On my purchase rating, I will buy the DVD (but not stretch to Blu-ray) because there are so many good bits on the way to overall failure.
All the stars …