FlixChatter Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

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I came to appreciate Wes Anderson‘s films through his third feature film The Royal Tennenbaum a few years after its release in 2001. I enjoyed it but I didn’t immediately become a fan right away, his movies are definitely an acquired taste. Since then I have only seen three more from his work, The Darjeeling Limited, The Fantastic Mr Fox and Moonrise Kingdom. I never really quite anticipate Wes’ movies until this one though right from the first time I heard about the premise. I was hooked not only because of the usual stellar cast, but the story just sounds like a joyful romp.

The film centers on the adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. I’ve always loved stories about unlikely friendship, and it couldn’t be more unlikely than Gustave and Zero, played brilliantly by Ralph Fiennes and newcomer Guatemalan actor Tony Revolori. When you see a Wes Anderson’s movie, you’re invited to an eccentric world where everything is symmetrical and painted in a retro-looking, highly-saturated color palette. It’s within this meticulously-stylized macrocosm that he set kooky scenarios of his equally quirky characters. The film was set in an old hotel in Görlitz [on the Germany-Poland border] and there’s a whimsical cartoon quality about it despite being a live-action film. Apparently Wes did complete the animated version before he started filming this, according to this article.

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It’s a story within a story, starting with an author (Tom Wilkinson) recounting his memoir based on his encounter at the Grand Budapest Hotel, located in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka in Central Europe. We then see the author as a young writer (Jude Law) staying at the hotel and ended up having dinner with the mysterious hotel’s owner Zero Mustafa (F. Murray Abraham). The movie takes place primarily in flashback mode in the early 30s, as Zero recounts the adventure he had thirty years earlier with the renowned Monsieur Gustave (Fiennes). Gustave ran the hotel almost with an iron-like precision, who’s apparently known for wooing the older ladies who frequent the hotel. It turns out most of them came to see him, including the 80-something Madame D. (an unrecognizable Tilda Swinton). It’s when she passed away that the real adventure begins, involving Madame D’s huge family fortune and a priceless Renaissance painting.

It’s fun to see what Wes has in store with each of the cast member, including his BFF Bill Murray who yet again has a cameo in their seventh collaboration. I have to admit that whenever each of these well-known actors show in various scenes, it did take me out of the story a bit, but soon I was caught up in the story again. There’s an underlying dark story about war and the dramatic continental change, after all, the memoir Wes was inspired by (The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig), describes Austria at the start of the 20th century as it’s anticipating Nazi persecution. But a lot of the violence as well as sexuality are played for laughs here and they’re shown only briefly on screen. It still made me wince though seeing even a glimpse of an old woman performing fellatio on Gustave, one character losing all his fingers in a rather gruesome way, as well as a display of a severed head.

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The hotel is practically a character in itself, where most of the adventure takes place. The retro-looking saturated color palette feels a bit brighter with the addition of the pink color of the hotel exterior and the box of the old-world pastry of Mendl’s bakery, which plays a pretty big part in the story. I appreciate the visual treat of Wes’ idiosyncratic camera work and the precise symmetry of each shot makes for an amusing contrast to the haphazard and chaotic scenes. There’s a journey theme here that we often seen in Wes’ films (again involving trains). Either the characters are running away from or towards something, sometimes both. This is also perhaps one of the most action-packed of all his movies — part road movie, part heist, complete with a snowy ski/sled chase scene as farcical as in the Roger Moore’s Bond flick For Your Eyes Only. Some of the action scenes, like the shootout at the hotel, felt over the top to me though.

Ultimately, the heart of the film belongs Zero Moustafa, whose loyalty, bravery and selfless-ness saves Gustave time and time again. There’s a sweet romance between him and Agatha (the always excellent Saoirse Ronan), whom the older Zero speaks of as being the love of his life. There’s a scene where Agatha is reciting poetry about her romance with Zero is a welcomed tender moment amongst all the droll and wacky scenarios. Similar to the two newbie actors playing young couple in Moonrise Kingdom, Revolori is quite memorable here even with his zany, deadpan expression. Abraham as the older Zero adds gravitas and emotional resonance to his character even in his brief scenes. I rarely see Fiennes in a comedic roles but that actually adds to the peculiarity of his character. I read that Wes wrote this role for him, which I think is an inspired choice. The rest of the supporting cast did a nice job, with Jeff Goldblum, Ronan and Adrien Brody being my favorite. Ed Norton‘s character seems quite similar to the one he did in Moonrise Kingdom, which reminds me it’s been a while since I saw him in anything but small supporting roles. Harvey Keitel and Willem Dafoe played the kind of tough guy persona I’ve seen in other films, but it’s still amusing to see them here.

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When I look back at previous work of Wes that I’ve seen, this one perhaps rank pretty close to The Fantastic Mr. Fox, which I consider my favorite of his work. I was quite invested in the two lead characters, particularly Zero, more than I’ve ever felt about previous Wes Anderson’s characters. There’s a lot of stuff happening in this movie that it was discombobulating at times, but it was an entertaining ride. I thoroughly enjoyed it and the pace felt swifter than his other films, so there’s not a boring moment for me here. Mischievously whimsy, but with heart. Like a charming hotel, it’s one I wouldn’t mind revisiting again and again.

4.5 out of 5 reels


What did you think of Grand Budapest Hotel?

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52 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

    1. Hi Michael! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, it just might beat ‘Fox’ by a hair, ahah. I love that guy Tony Revolori as Zero, his expression alone is hysterical!

  1. Great to see such a high score Ruth. Brilliant review and very glad you enjoyed this one. I’m hoping I can catch it soon. Love me some Wes Anderson, I haven’t seen a bad film from him yet.

    1. Hello Mark! This movie actually grew on me the more I think about it. I reckon you’d enjoy this one, so far it’s my favorite (kind of a tie w/ Fantastic Mr Fox), can’t wait to see it again!

  2. Good review, Ruth, I am so glad you liked BUDAPEST. I love this line: “It’s within this meticulously-stylized macrocosm that he set kooky scenarios of his equally quirky characters.” I don’t know if you saw this interview with the graphic designer for the film. She got to create the money and bunch of other stuff. It. Is. Amazing. http://t.co/kh7VVOZDAp

    1. Thanks doll, lovely to see you stop by! This movie is quintessentially Wes but I like that there’s also emotional involvement w/ the main leads. Fiennes is fantastic, he should try doing more dark comedies! Oh thanks for the link, wow how awesome was that to get to work on Wes’ movies, that fake money is awesome!

  3. I love Wes Anderson. Always have. Probably always will. Darjeeling and Life Aquatic are not great, but they are far from misses, and the rest (that I’ve seen – missing Mr. Fox), in my opinion, is spectacular. So I suspect I am destined to love this one no matter what.

    But reading your glowing review only further increases my anxiousness to see it. Great work, Ruth!

    1. Hi Josh! If you like Wes’ style, I think you’d have a blast w/ this one. It kept me engrossed from start to finish, and nary a boring moment. The colors are brighter here than his previous movies and a bit more fast-paced as well.

  4. Ted S.

    I’m not the biggest fan of Anderson either, couldn’t remember the last movie of his that I saw, must’ve been Life Aquatic. This one sounds interesting and from the trailer, it does look like a cartoon. Also, it’s interesting that he shot the movie in the old square aspect ratio, maybe because the movie took place in that earlier era of films, he just wanted to pay homage to that period.

    I’ll give it a rent when it hits Bluray.

    1. That’s one I haven’t seen yet Ted but I will give it a shot. I really like this one, I think even if you’re not a huge fan you might enjoy it. Yeah, he sent instructions on how to play this film, I think it’s cool that he went to such length to pay homage to the 30s even w/ the format of it.

    1. I hope you like this one, I’d think you would if you’re a fan of Wes’ work. It’s got all his trademarks here that adds up to a fun ride.

  5. Good review Ruth. Though it isn’t his best, it’s still a fine-effort from Anderson that shows the guy can have a bit of fun every once and awhile; even if that fun doesn’t really add up to much.

    1. Hi Dan! Well, since I’ve only seen 5 of his work, this one is my fave so far. I thought it was really entertaining throughout and has some tender moments as well. I don’t usually connect w/ Wes’ characters, but I really like Zero.

      1. He’s a good character to have, too! Exactly the type of guy I wouldn’t be surprised to see pop-up in future Anderson movies, if that ever happens.

  6. davecrewe

    Great review! So much detail in your write-up; very impressive. I’m really looking forward to seeing this one, love (almost) all of Wes’ stuff.

    1. Well hello Dave! Thank you for the kind words. I had read quite a bit about this film and found it so fascinating. I think you’d enjoy this if Wes’ style is your cup of tea.

    1. Hi Mark! Glad you love this one as well, man. I started writing the review days after I saw it almost 2 wks ago but I rewrote a lot of it before I published it. There are so much more details I could’ve poured into it, I might have to write something about Wes’ style in the near future.

    1. Hey thanks Chris! Glad we agree on this one eh? I’m glad the pace is a bit faster than his other films, but still has all the kooky touches that’s classic Wes. I can’t wait to see this again w/ my hubby once it’s out on Blu-ray.

    1. Hi Jack! Yeah I really enjoyed this too, it’s just a fun ride from start to finish but with more emotional involvement here than what I used to seeing on Wes’ previous works.

  7. I’ve read several reviews that compare the narrative structure to one of those Russian nesting dolls and that really is an apt description. I love Wes Anderson and have been a fan of his since I first saw Rushmore in 1998 a few weeks before Christmas. This has got to be one of his most gorgeously detailed confections. I really geeked out over the style in my review. Nicely done.

    1. Hello Mark! Ahah, that is quite an interesting and spot-on comparison. There are definitely many layers to his story, one quirkier than the next. I still have to see Rushmore, my intro to Wes was The Royal Tennenbaums. It’s definitely a delicious confection 😀

    1. Ahah channeling Sally Field aren’t you Josh? 😉 Yes I really did like it, I think it might edge out Fantastic Mr Fox as my favorite from Wes now. I hope you get to see this soon!

      1. Can’t say that I am overly familiar with his work. I have come across a film or two and it’s not too bad, but everyone is enamoured with this so far, I will have to look into it!

        1. Yeah, his films are a hit and miss for me, but even his *misses* are still worth a watch. I quite like Fantastic Mr Fox, that’s worth a rent at least Zoe!

  8. I hope to see this soon, so I just skimmed through the post. Glad to see the high rating! I like Wes Anderson although he is pretty much an acquired taste. But like in the 2nd photo you posted here, the cast is just awesome. I just have to see this!

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  10. Great review Ruth. It does feel swifter than some if his other films – the plot feels very tight and the performances are so captivating. It’s my favourite film of the year so far without any doubt.

  11. Loved this film and saw it twice at the cinema. Will be high up in my end of year list. btw, every time I see F. Murray Abraham I always think of Last Action Hero: “but he killed Mozart” (referencing Amadeus)

    1. Ahah! I forgot there’s such a line in Last Action Hero!! He was tremendous as Salieri in Amadus, but he’s also memorable even in smaller roles, as we witnessed in Grand Budapest Hotel. He’s also got a tiny but indelible role in Inside Llewyn Davis.

  12. Hey Ruth! I realize I’m fairly late to the conversation, but I wanted to add a comment. I saw this movie just a few days ago and I thought it was quite charming and whimsical! I really enjoyed it, and I want to see more of Wes Anderson’s films now. The only other one of his films I’ve seen is Moonrise Kingdom, which I also really liked a lot. I’ll have to add Fantastic Mr. Fox to my must-see list now! This was a great review . . . I really enjoyed reading it!

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