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The Grand Budapest Hotel: A Review

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Bristol chapter.

It would be fair to say that Wes Anderson was the first director to really grab me. Ever since finding Moonrise Kingdom lying around in our house and deciding to watch it on a whim I’ve been hooked. His quirky style, dead pan humour and at times almost ridiculous slapstick drew me in, being so refreshingly different to what I was used to at the cinema. After seeing his latest release, The Grand Budapest Hotel, I’ve only fallen more in love with his way of movie making.

The film is set in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka during the build up to war. The visuals and sets of Wes’ films are one of my favourite elements– from the vibrant colours of India in The Darjeeling Limited to the lush green island in Moonrise Kingdom, every film has its very own look. The Grand Budapest Hotel is no different: the snowy alpine backdrop and pastel hues of the hotel transport the cinemagoer to a nostalgic European idyll that feels cute and kitsch. Unable to find a suitable hotel to use, Wes and his team decided to create their own in miniature. Claiming that audiences tend to recognise what is fake, he decided to simply use an old fashioned artificial form rather than high tech effects and I believe this adds to the almost “old-worldly” charm of the film.

What I’ve sometimes found hard to pin down when it comes to Anderson films is the plot, especially when trying to describe it to others. The stories in films like The Royal Tenenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited sometimes feel secondary to the characters which inhabit them– but this is definitely no fault; the characters are always beautifully drawn out and so completely engage an audience. However, this new release has a clear and exciting plot: when the charming concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel, M. Gustav (Ralph Fiennes), inherits a priceless painting from one of the widowed guests he frequently beds, he and his lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori) become caught up in a murder mystery that involves a wealth of hilarious and dark characters. This gives the movie wonderful scope as Gustav and Zero travel across Europe from the glamour of the hotel they love to mountain tops and prison cells.

The main story is nestled within two others: a girl in a cemetery reads a book, which leads to the author of that book narrating his encounter with the owner of the aging Grand Budapest Hotel. We’re slowly transported further back through time and, in a way, through reality, before settling within the fantasy winter wonderland of Gustav and Zero. I believe this removing of the audience from our own world into a fictitious one enables the viewer to become more engrossed in the story presented – it’s not claiming to be a realistic depiction of pre-war Europe; it’s something far quirkier and unique than that.

The cast is, as always, exceptional. Familiar faces to Anderson productions such as Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray all make their appearances, but it’s Ralph Fiennes who really steals the show. Effortlessly sophisticated, he gives a flawless comedy performance as the camp concierge who strives to uphold the genteel and perfect standards of the hotel he so loves, but at the same time possesses a sharp wit, foul mouth and habit of sleeping with old, rich blondes who visit. I also adored Willem Dafoe and Adrian Brody as the “bad guys” of the film who were the perfect foils to Fiennes’ character.

The film strikes an interesting balance between its comedic and darker elements. Witty one liners are accompanied by grisly murders; the luxurious beauty of the hotel and the lifestyle it and Gustav encompass are contrasted against the harsh realities of Europe in war- it doesn’t take a genius to work out who the aggressive ‘ZZ’ force are representing. And after a genuinely amusing and light hearted romp, Anderson doesn’t shy away from a grittier and ultimately more satisfying ending.

I couldn’t recommend this film enough, especially if you have never seen any of Anderson’s work before. It’s a great place to begin learning to love the director: visually stunning, a vast array of interesting characters and a gripping plot with comedy thrown in all work together perfectly. I spent almost the entirety of the film smiling, and I’m sure anyone who sees it will do the same.


Photo Credits: 1, 2, 3

Her Campus magazine