BY: Dave Itzkoff
Imagine you could pry off the back of Wes Anderson’s head and rummage around inside. What would you find there? A mind like a junk drawer crammed with kite string, Swiss Army knives and remote-controlled toys, or one that springs open as neatly as a well-organised tackle box? A memory palace assembled ad hoc from brownstone apartments, underground caves and submarine compartments, or a diligently designed, continuously flowing and elegant old Alpine resort?
It is this mountain getaway structure that is suggested by Anderson’s new movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Written by Anderson, the idiosyncratic 44-year-old filmmaker of The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom, from a story by him and Hugo Guinness, The Grand Budapest Hotel is the tale of a finicky but charismatic concierge named Gustave H (played by Ralph Fiennes) in the fictional European nation Zubrowka, and a comic caper he shares with a lobby boy (Tony Revolori) in the early 1930s.
Like the hotel of its title, this movie is filled with Anderson’s distinctive and pored-over touches: pastel colour schemes, baroque costumes and delicate pastries. But beyond the archness and deliberation of The Grand Budapest Hotel lurks a sense of foreboding and menace uncommon to Anderson’s work — a feeling that this carefully constructed realm is in danger of slipping away.
And while this film, perhaps more so than Anderson’s seven others, presents a time and place he has never seen nor inhabited, it might also offer his most personal invitation yet into his world.
In his travels, “I’m a total foreigner, I have a real outsider’s point of view,” Anderson said. As he has encountered Europe and its populace, he said: “I don’t share their cynicism. I’m shielded from it, because I’ve been through nothing like any of the things these people went through.”
But when he makes his movies, “I’m much more adventurous,” he said.
Raised in Texas (the setting of his first two features, Bottle Rocket and Rushmore), Anderson now lives in New York but has spent much of the last two years in Europe. Fiennes, best known for his coldly villainous performances as Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List and Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series, said he was happy to have “exorcised those characters” in The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Anderson also had no trouble tapping into the eclectic roster of actors who have become his unofficial repertory company: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman turn up as hotel staffers; Edward Norton plays a police captain and Willem Dafoe a sinister enforcer; and Tilda Swinton plays an octogenarian dowager named Madame D.
What is unusual for Anderson in The Grand Budapest Hotel is the feeling of loss that hovers over his characters, as even a made-up version of decadent Europe is forced to give way to the brutal approach of World War II.
Anderson said this was probably his first movie with real villains and real violence, which he said must be an expression — conscious or otherwise — of what history was about to do to these people. “I mutilate somebody about every 10 minutes of the movie,” he said, slightly exaggerating.
Beyond its antic comedy, The Grand Budapest Hotel portrays Gustave H as a man seeking to preserve a time and place that is already lost — a description that could as easily apply to Anderson.
“It was culture that was becoming more and more refined,” he said, “and he said nationalism ended it and ruined it, and led to these dogmatic ideologies.”
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