The opening shot is of a girl who walks into a cemetery and begins to read the memoirs of a character simply known as the Author (Tom Wilkinson). The film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, follows the story that the aforementioned girl is reading. The Author, whose younger incarnation is played by Jude Law, has traveled to the Grand Budapest hotel in the late 1960s, long after the hotel’s glory days have ended. Here, the Author meets the hotel owner, Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham). Zero recounts the tale of how he came to acquire the hotel. Zero started out as a lobby boy and became the protégée of the Concierge, Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). It seems as though Gustave’s taste for rich, blonde, older women had finally gotten him in trouble. The majority of the plot follows Gustave and Zero’s adventures after Gustave is accused of murdering his late lover, Madame D (Tilda Swinton).
There are many commendable aspects of this film. The film is hysterical from start to finish, and it moves at a pace which allows each line to be delivered perfectly. Anderson has yet again created a world with quirky characters that speak with incredible wit. Ralph Fiennes’ performance of Gustave is spot on with his endearing magnetism, so you cannot help but idolize Gustave. His disarming charm and purple concierge suit can all but steal the heart of any girl, both old and young.
Anderson experimented with focusing in his shots. In the past, the heart of his films has lived in the forefront of the shot. But, in The Grand Budapest Hotel, by allowing multiple parts of the shot to be in and out of focus, Anderson created a fuller picture and a fuller world.
Wes Anderson does not let the confines of reality stop him from creating a world where colors seem more real on screen than they do in the actual universe. The rich pinks, oranges, browns, and blues created a world where, of course, the Republic of Zubrowka exists and where, of course, Willem Dafoe is some psudeo-vampire assassin. How could anyone even think otherwise? The colors take you out of the real world and immerse you into the world of Wes.
He also attempted more dramatic lighting in comparison with his prior films. Anderson really emphasized the lighting when it came to the scenes between the young Author and Zero. In a story rife with gods — the girl from the first shot reading the novel, the adult Author recounting the tale, adult Zero recounting the tale to the young Author, and Gustave to young Zero — the dramatic lighting of the film reminds the audience that the film is all but a story in which Anderson is the initial, omniscient narrator.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is to its very core a Wes Anderson film. It has all his signature styles: The movie is rife with panning shots, window shots, quirky characters, intense colors, title cards, and perfectly symmetrical composition. He even had a couple shots which drew heavily from Godard’s Une Femme Est Une Femme.
Although there are many praise worthy aspects in The Grand Budapest Hotel, I could not help but be disappointed. If you are a director like Anderson who has a reputation of visually stunning images, then it’s important to have a signature style in your films; but, you must also be cautious of your films becoming redundant. While watching the film, I felt as though I had seen it all before. All the images in the movie were ones that had already been in his prior films. As a director, it is one’s duty to continue creating fresh, unique films.
Wes Anderson happens to be one of the few directors that makes original, avant-garde films. He advocates for change by creating something different. For all the aspiring filmmakers who are reading this, I urge you to take a page out of Anderson’s book, and take charge. Grab a couple of your friends, a camera, and create. Dare yourself to make a movie that means something.