Check in and check out Wes Anderson’s delightful caper
Wes Anderson is undeniably one of the most distinct filmmakers working today. His style and storytelling are rooted in a unmatched sense of whimsy, precision, and intricacy — too emotionally distant and twee for some, a perfect escape for others. Everybody has their favorite (Team Zissou), but The Grand Budapest Hotel feels like the culmination, and refinement, of Anderson’s oeuvre, and we can all check in once again thanks to an outstanding release from Criterion.
Wes Anderson brings his dry wit and visual inventiveness to this exquisite caper set amid the old-world splendor of Europe between the world wars. At the opulent Grand Budapest Hotel, the concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and his young protégé Zero (Tony Revolori) forge a steadfast bond as they are swept up in a scheme involving the theft of a priceless Renaissance painting and the battle for an enormous family fortune — while around them, political upheaval consumes the continent. Meticulously designed, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a breathless picaresque and a poignant paean to friendship and the grandeur of a vanished world, performed with panache by an all-star ensemble that includes F. Murray Abraham, Adrien Brody, Saoirse Ronan, Willem Dafoe, Jude Law, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum, Mathieu Amalric, Tilda Swinton, and Bill Murray.
Set in and around the titular establishment in the fictional country of Zubrowka, the film flicks between two eras as Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham, in his youth depicted by Tony Revolori) recants the exploits of the former concierge of the establishment, Mr. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). An enigmatic and magnetic personality, Gustave gave the hotel a burnish and focal attraction with his efficiency, charm, and, for the older female guests, something a little more intimate when it came to a turn down service. When one of his regular guests dies (another incredible guise for Tilda Swinton), she bequeaths him a priceless work of art, an act that inflames her family and results in Gustave being framed for murder. Thus ensues a cross-country caper involving clearing Gustave’s name, delectable cakes, a prison escape, the fate of a fortune, and the love between two young souls, all against the backdrop of a country seeing the rise of fascism and loss of civility, a very grave thing for a concierge to witness indeed.
The screenplay, co-written with Hugo Guinness, delivers a comedy caper, one where the farce verges on the slapstick but is balanced by a underlying sadness. Anderson dials back some of the melancholy that pervades his other films, leaning more into reminiscing and reflecting on change and loss. This imbues the film with a sense of nostalgia, not just in reference to his previous works, but one well attuned to the story at hand. Quieter moments in the present give the film a weight to balance the whimsy of the past, and boy is there whimsy. The tropes you’d expect are packed in there, infusing the film with the quirks, gags, and characters you’d expect. In The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson totally embraces his own his affectations and celebrates them. The production design impresses and charms, with sharp style and color to match the wit of the wordplay. The film is magnificently paced and structured, pervaded by a swirling chaotic air, one aided by the fusion of styles and themes in Alexandre Desplat’s vibrant score.
Anderson deploys the usual rogues gallery of supporting actors like Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe, and Jeff Goldblum, along with sweet performances from Tony Revolori and the captivating Saoirse Ronan to tell a gem of a love story. But the film ultimately belongs to Ralph Fiennes, who chews the dialogue and scenery alike. With magnificent mannerisms and movement, he struts through proceedings as the film swirls around him. He’s an exquisite creation, and the icing on the cake for one of Wes Anderson’s finest features.
Criterion offers up a new transfer from an existing 2K master, supervised by director Wes Anderson. The film itself is a feast for the eyes, and I’m happy to report this Blu-ray is resplendent, with impressive detail and depth, bold colors, strong blacks, and noteworthy contrast and clarity of image. The film is paired with an exhaustive amount of extra features:
- New audio commentary featuring Anderson, filmmaker Roman Coppola, critic Kent Jones, and actor Jeff Goldblum: A deep dive into the themes, structure, script, inspirations, and overall production of the film, with the added whimsy of Goldblum.
- Selected-scene storyboard animatics: Nifty animatics showcasing the plans for 6 key sequences in the film: 1. Hotel Intro, 2. Washer Woman, 3. Killing of Kovacs, 4. Prison Escape, 5. Gabelmeister’s Peak, 6. Hotel Show-down.
- “The Making of ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel,’” a new documentary about the film: Broken into 3 segments: 1. Design/Special Effects. Jeremy Dawson and Adam Stockhausen talk about the process, specific work on the film, and their ongoing relationship with Anderson. 2. Music, with supervisor Randall Poster dissecting the musical approaches and themes for the film, including some raw recording footage. 3. Miniatures. Sadly the shortest part of this at around 3 minutes, which is a shame because the work here is beautiful and worthy of more attention.
- Featurettes/Interviews: 10 additional extras all around 3–5 minutes in length, dealing with specific aspects of production, glimpses behind the scenes, or focusing on members of the cast: 1. Part 1: The Story, 2. Part 2: The Society of the Crossed Keys, 3. Part 3: Creating the Hotel, 4. Creating the World, 5. Wes Anderson, 6. The Cast, 7. Bill Murray Tours Gorlitz, 8. Kuntsmuseum Zubrowka Lecture, 9. “The Society of the Crossed Keys,” and 10. Courtesans au chocolat
- Video essays from 2015 and 2020 by critic Matt Zoller Seitz and film scholar David Bordwell: Wes Anderson Takes the 4:3 Challenge: Bordwell nicely breaks down Anderson’s signature style as well as recurring themes across his films, with some focus on Budapest. In his contribution, preeminent Anderson writer Matt Zoller Seitz focuses on Budapest, specifically the balance between comedy and emotion, and how it affects the tone and overall story of the feature.
- PLUS: A 2014 essay by critic Richard Brody and a collectible poster, along with (on the Blu-ray) excerpts from an additional 2014 piece by Brody, an 1880 essay on European hotel portiers by Mark Twain, and other ephemera: The slipcase contains all of the above, a booklet showing some of the scenes and newspaper articles glimpsed in the film, all in a nicely presented set with some beautiful artwork from Juman Malouf.
The Bottom Line
Whether The Grand Budapest Hotel is your favorite Wes Anderson film depends on your personal preference, but it is undeniably a culmination of his work and a wonderful embrace of his signature predilections. Brimming with heart and whimsy, and showcasing a magnificent performance from Ralph Fiennes, this is a treat more exquisite than one of Mendl’s creations, one made all the sweeter thanks to this outstanding treatment by Criterion.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is available via Criterion from April 28th, 2020.