Grand Budapest Hotel: a film for silly adults in disguise

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We purposely didn’t read too much about Grand Budapest Hotel before arriving at the theatre. It’s a Wes Anderson film and, though I’m not as much of a diehard fan as my friends who organized the film night, we had enough faith going in that we didn’t need to research the movie. That’s just how we do, or maybe that’s just how Anderson….do. Does.

When I say I’m not a diehard fan of Anderson’s films I mean that I have yet to see Rushmore and Fantastic Mr. Fox, his most recognized works, but have seen Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom. Although I now remember nothing of it, I did watch the Royal Tenenbaums many years back after countless strangers I met (ah, again with that weakness for strangers) would chat with me about movies or stories, pause, look at me closely and say, “You know what? I think you would really like the Royal Tenenbaums. Yes, yes you would,” they’d exclaim. Now, I don’t know what sort of first impression I give off or why I ended up going to the theatre with a group of a dozen like-minded friends tonight, but the only common thread I can see throughout the Anderson films I’ve watched so far is that every twist and turn of the film takes an often naive pleasure in its own strangeness. And I suppose I also like giggling at such things, as do my friends.

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Grand Budapest Hotel is a story within a story, within a story. A girl sits down on a bench to read a book by a writer who’s published this story many years after having been told it. This turns out to be the actual premise of the film. It’s rather unnecessary to have so many stories, but hey, I’ve seen more distracting nonessentials in a film. The writer of the eventual book sits down to a long dinner of rabbit and duck with the owner of the once magnificent Grand Budapest Hotel, who decides to recount the story of its fame and ruin to the writer. Writers wait for people to come to them with pen-worthy material, as the film states. Zero Mustafa, the aged, bearded millionaire, is cloaked in mystery and is said to live a lavish life outside his hotel, yet for some reason he chooses to sleep in the servants quarters when he visits.

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Stepping back into time, he describes the Grand Budapest Hotel in all its glory back when M. Gustav was its doting, perfectionist concierge, romancing old ladies with massive bank accounts and attending to the most minute needs of his clientele. After being listed as the main recipient in the will of one of his favourite guests, he and his sidekick, a loyal and impressionable young refugee with olive skin, get tangled up in a web of art theft, murder, escape and hiding. Like The Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom, the film turns into a fast-paced journey of sorts, in this case a chase.

One of the brilliant things about Anderson is the way he paints scenes. The imagery and bright colors of the subcontinent stood out for this reason in Darjeeling Limited, and so do the wintry eastern European landscapes and WWII-era adornments in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Anderson’s playful scenes and detailed period settings only further the imaginary worlds he is already encouraging us to build while watching. I am not at all surprised that he looks up to Roald Dahl (one of my all-time favourite writers!), for who else can paint absurdity with such seriousness?

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The reason I chose animated images for this header is because there’s a cartoon-like humor to all of Anderson’s characters. He preserves in them a childlike innocence, which is unbelievably and intentionally silly yet, somehow, their determination is so endearing that you’re rooting for them till the end. He makes films for adults, all the while tapping into our latent childhood imaginations.

As adults, we don’t feel so silly watching his films and, although the storyline is so fantastical that our lives could never, ever reach that point, there’s something relatable in the fact that at least they’re real human beings running around acting like crazies….the way we practical adults kinda, sorta wish we could act, but can’t quite justify at our age and stature. That may explain why, when watching Grand Budapest Hotel, I felt like a kid laughing cross-legged on the floor in front of the family TV while stuffing my face with fattening snacks (which I’ve conveniently forgotten my metabolism can no longer handle). I escaped into the film and, as friends and I agreed afterwards, wouldn’t have minded if it went on for a few hours after the end.

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