The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014): Wes Anderson's bitter-sweet fable about solitude featuring a delectable performance from Ralph Fiennes

A piquant cocktail fizzing with the resplendence of the extremes 


By Murtaza Ali

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews

The Grand Budapest Hotel, Movie Poster, Directed by Wes Anderson, starring F. Murray Abraham, Edward Norton, Jude Law, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Murray, Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) By Wes Anderson
Our Rating: 9.0
IMDb Ratings: 8.4
Genre: Comedy
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Willem Dafoe
Country: UK | Germany
LanguageEnglish | French
Runtime100 min
ColorColor



SummaryThe Grand Budapest Hotel recounts 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. The story involves the theft and recovery of a priceless Renaissance painting and the battle for an enormous family fortune - all against the back-drop of a suddenly and dramatically changing Continent.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is the latest offering from the American filmmaker Wes Anderson. Inspired by the writings of the 20th century Austrian novelist and playwright Stefan Zweig, The Grand Budapest Hotel premiered at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival, back in February 2014, where it won the Grand Jury Prize—the festival’s second most prestigious prize. The Grand Budapest Hotel stars the renowned English actor Ralph Fiennes in the lead role. The movie's star-studded support cast—consisting of several of Anderson regulars—includes the likes of F. Murray Abraham, Edward Norton, Jude Law, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Murray, Léa Seydoux, Mathieu Amalric and Owen Wilson. A unique blend of comedy, satire, and magic-realism, The Grand Budapest Hotel, as a work of cinematic art, cannot be deemed original in its totality, for it borrows heavily from such luminaries as Ernst Lubitsch, Jacques Tati, Alfred Hitchcock, and Stanley Kubrick. The movie's oddball comic timing reminds one of the Monty Python series. Yet, in its essence, it’s much more than a pastiche of sorts, vintage Wes Anderson’s creative genius

Ralph Fiennes as Gustave. H and Tilda Swinton as Madame D, in The Grand Budapest Hotel, Directed by Wes Anderson
Ralph Fiennes as Gustave. H & Tilda Swinton as Madame D
On the face of it, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a celebration of the little moments of joy in each of our lives, but, behind the façade of levity, it is a also warning and a reminder to the society at large that our world is at a constant danger from being taken over by the dark forces and that complacency and indifference are the things that we can least afford. But, first and foremost, it’s a tale of solitude and how human beings learn to cope up with it. The movie’s seemingly bizarre plot, one that’s generally associated with B-grade horror comedies, revolves around M. Gustave, the fastidious concierge of the Grand Budapest (a remote, mountainside hotel situated in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka on the farthest eastern boundary of Europe), and the devoted young lobby boy Zero Moustafa. Anderson’s playful film takes us back in time, ever so subtly, bringing us face-to-face with one of the darkest phases in modern history, the early 1930s, simultaneously mocking and mourning the period that marked the beginning of the Holocaust in Europe. The movie's deadpan humor, à la the great Buster Keaton, is most evident in Ralph Fiennes' mannerisms and dialogue delivery. Consider the heavily loaded monologue which Fiennes' character delivers following a near-fatal encounter with a barbaric fascist brigade: "You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that's what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant... oh, f**k it."

Willem Dafoe as Jopling and Adrien Brody as Dmitri, in The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), Directed by Wes Anderson
Willem Dafoe (left) as Jopling and Adrien Brody as Dmitri
Through The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson serves us with a piquant cocktail fizzing with the resplendence of the extremes: the sublime and the absurd, the dignified and the frivolous, the brutal and the tender, the worldly and the spiritual, and the ghastly and the pleasant. In M. Gustave we get to observe closely a man of dignity, honor and humility who is an expert in matters of propriety concerning the hospitality profession. He is fully committed to entertaining the needs of the hotel's distinguished clientele as well as managing its staff. But, beneath his calm and composed patina underlies a whirlpool of nervous energy that’s probably a result of his abject solitude which he tries to mitigate by finding solace in the company of the aging, affluent blonde women who frequently visit The Grand Budapest just to enjoy its concierge's amorous friendship. It’s as if by serving as a gigolo to these insecure, superficial, vain women, he has found a temporary cure to his own ancient malady.

Tony Revolori as young Zero Moustafa, lobby boy, The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), Directed by Wes Anderson
Tony Revolori as young Zero Moustafa
Ralph Fiennes plays the part of M. Gustave with scalpel-like precision, delicately embracing the nuances and subtleties of the complex caricature. In the view of this critic, Fiennes’ delectable performance in The Grand Budapest Hotel is second only to his tour de force portrayal of Amon Goeth in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993). In addition, a vast panoply of interesting characters is on display here: committed lovers, cold-blooded murders, adulterous dames, fiendish sons, devoted servants, honorable criminals, gregarious writers, unassuming attorneys, martinet proprietors, stoic immigrants, and more. While the acting is brilliant all around, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel are utterly delightful to watch in their short but memorable roles. Another actor that deserves a special mention is the newcomer Tony Revolori who impresses as the young Zero Moustafa. Like any other Wes Anderson film, The Grand Budapest Hotel brilliantly balances the technical and the emotional elements. Robert Yeoman’s brilliant cinematography (reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s films) is well complemented by Alexandre Desplat’s uplifting background score. The movie’s pacing is brilliant thanks to Barney Pilling’s topnotch editing. Visually, the movie is nothing short of a spectacle; the use of bright colors immensely adds to its splendor.

Harvey Keitel as Ludwig, Russian Gangster, Mafia, Prison, in The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), Directed by Wes Anderson
Harvey Keitel as Ludwig in The Grand Budapest Hotel
Overall, The Grand Budapest Hotel is an important work of cinematic art that offers entertainment and food for thought in equal parts.  As a powerful treatise on solitude and nihilism, the movie harks back to the motifs explored by Gabriel García Márquez in One Hundred Years a Solitude and Love in Time of Cholera. In this respect, it also vaguely reminds this critic of Federico Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria (1957), Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), and Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty (2013). The Grand Budapest Hotel’s story-within-a-story narrative seems to work quite well and gives the movie the feel of a grandiose, bitter-sweet dream. The movie in itself may be nothing more than an illusion but it directs us towards a poignant reality that is impossible to avoid or overlook. The Grand Budapest Hotel has its share of incongruities and anachronisms but that doesn’t prevent the movie from weaving its magic on the viewers. These inconsistencies are a result of Wes Anderson’s artistic freedom, and, if anything, they only enhance the movie’s overall appeal. This brings us to the all-important question: Is “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Wes Anderson’s best film till date? Well, perhaps, yes… but, frankly speaking, that’s for the time to decide! For now, it would be fair to say that it’s definitely his most accessible film yet. Wes Anderson fans would obviously devour this gem without having any second thought. For the uninitiated, it’s a great means to get acquainted with his oeuvre; once through, they can work backwards from there on. In the end, it would be safe to say that those who admire and appreciate topnotch international cinema wouldn’t be left untouched by the enamoring charm of The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Readers, please feel free to share your opinion by leaving your comments. As always your valuable thoughts are highly appreciated!  

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31 comments:

  1. Great review. Not usually a fan of Anderson but I love this film.

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  2. Another great piece of writing from a man whose work I truly admire As for the film, it's a charmer alright but it's a film I really need to see a second time as I don't seem to have gotten out of it what you and others have. I liked the film more than loved it and for me it trails behind earlier Wes Anderson films. Nevertheless it is highly original and Feinnes is superb as always. I'm really glad you've shared this with me Murtaza and I hope you will keep them coming my way in the future

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  3. Thanks Martin... it certainly is the most accessible Wes Anderson film... and, yes, the movie definitely requires a second viewing... it's so full of details and interesting characters. I hope it's gets some serious attention at the Oscars.

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  4. I think it came out too early for next year's Oscars. The Academy's memory is very short! I will buy it on bluray though to keep my Wes Anderson collection complete.

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  5. Thanks for sharing your valuable thoughts... As far as I am concerned, I love all Wes Anderson films that I have watched... and so I can't really disagree with your choices!!! :-)

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  6. Excellent review. I have forgotten about Lubitsch and Tati's inspirations in Anderson movies. Thanks for pointing that out. It is also great that you have compared the themes inquired by Marquez with Anderson's work. You are also right about leaving the movie to time, to decide about its greatness. But, I think for now, "Grand Budapest Hotel" is the most phenomenal work of Anderson's oeuvre.

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  7. Glad you liked it, Arun... the movie actually succeeded in holding me in a state of sustained stupor... needles to say, I was engaged at both the intellectual as well as the visceral level. And, yes, it arguably is the most most phenomenal work of Anderson's oeuvre. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!!! :-)

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  8. Thanks for those kind words, Bobby. I agree that Juan is a savage and a pillager but he is not one of those refined men like the one played by Coburn's character. He is naive because he is easily tricked by John but at the same time he shows his intelligent side when he delivers that haunting speech on revolutions, forcing John to throw away the very book which had formed the basis of his ideology. And, yes, there indeed is great hope in the possibility of change!

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  9. Leone and Morricone were classmates and their collaboration gave cinema what came to be known as "Spaghetti Music"... it wouldn't be a hyperbole to call Morricone the 20th century Mozart.

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  10. That's what great cinema is capable of doing... at first, you may not get it at all and then suddenly it all seems so obvious.

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  11. I agree... Steiger is a league apart. I was only referring to the similarity of the two characters. I have a strong feeling that Wallach's Tuco must have been the inspiration behind Steiger's Juan.

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  12. Jyoti Prakash MallickJune 14, 2014 at 6:00 PM

    I can't wait to watch this; loved the review though. I remember being introduced to Wes Anderson by Scorsese, when he spoke about "Bottle Rocket", a film i still struggle to completely understand, and then moving on to his more accessible- The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore, etc. I have loved all his works since then, and even though i adored Moonrise Kingdom, i thought it was one of his weaker works; visually wonderful and enjoyable, nevertheless. I sense he is back to wowing us like only he can with this one, fingers crossed. :)

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  13. Glad you liked the review... I have got a feeling that you are going to love it!!! :-)

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  14. Leone and Morricone classmates? That must of been like the school out of X men for gifted prodigies. wow.

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  15. that class apart cinematography and a million other great things...
    this one was a visual treat Murtaza, Great review :)

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  16. Glad you liked the review as well as the film :-)

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  17. Curious as to whether anyone knows the precise spelling for the phrase the doctor expresses and the others repeat? When Juan says he understands everything? Its regarding liberty...

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  18. Perhaps, I will have to watch it one more time to try and figure it out!!! :-)

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  19. Phonetically it somewhat sounds like

    "D'air et liberte' "

    Pretty sure it means something like "towards liberty" and am thinking about adding it to a tattoo. Hence the obvious need to find the correct spelling.

    Right at the end of the scene under the bar/cafe. Dr. Villega tells them to leave one by one, etc then he says it.....

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  20. I just revisited the very scene from the movie and after having done some research I can tell you that it's actually an anarchist political slogan used by the revolutionary leaders of the Mexican Revolution. It goes like "Tierra y Libertad" (Spanish), which in English translates to Land and Liberty. It was originally used as a name of the Russian revolutionary organization "Zemlya i Volya" in 1878.

    The Mexican Revolution was fought over land rights with leaders such as Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa fighting to give the land back to the natives from whom it was unjustly expropriated... without land, the peasants were left at the mercy of the tyrannous landlords.

    For more you can refer to the following Wikipedia page:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_and_liberty_(slogan)


    P.S. I must thank you for bringing it up (l would have loved to touch upon it in my review in the first place, but, as they say, it's never too late)... I think now you can safely go ahead adding it to the tattoo you have in mind :-)

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  21. Thanks! Well your review was very good before. Now it will be even better! Haha...

    Thanks again, especially for the prompt response.

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  22. The pleasure is all mine. Btw, I would love to see the tattoo once it's all ready!!! :-)

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  23. If you don't hear from me in about a month, email me big_boa92@hotmail.com

    Its actually a viking who has a braid that turns into a snake and I thought that would be the perfect phrase to be captured in/on the snake....... but sure. Remind me and I'll email you a pic......

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  24. Wow, it does indeed feel like something that I would most certainly love to behold!!! :-)

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  25. My tattoo guy just started it this week. Also, since the viking horns aren't really accurate historically, there are none. But I'm putting together things about myself in the tattoo (part norwegian,,,,, the "boa" handle, etc") and in trying to figure out a way to incorporate something from DYS, I decided on that quote. Plus it expresses the mighty Boa's patriotic, rebellious side.....

    Definetely email me in about a month......

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  26. Could not have possible explained better than this. Exemplary writing for this classical western. It is too tad difficult for me select what work of Sergio Leon is best among OUATITW,TGTBTU, and Duck you sucker. For me all these three movies are equally good, but Duck,you sucker is most powerful movie in terms of its content. I find Screenplay of TGTBTU and Duck you sucker equally good.

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  27. Thanks for those kind words, Nafees... there are so many things that make Sergio Leone's films very very special. People often consider his works to be fine specimens of showmanship but that's not the whole truth. You see Leone's films are equally thought provoking, if not more... and they are seldom devoid of strong undercurrents of sarcasm and dark humor. Also, the socio-political angle just cannot be overlooked. There is so much going on in Leone's films that it's easy to transfix our attention only to the images. But a keen eyed viewer knows better than that.

    Duck, You Sucker is a great satire on revolutions the world over. The conversation alone is so rich and thought-provoking... the Chemistry between Steiger and Coburn is an absolute treat to watch. And what can one say about Morricone's hypnotic music? The flashback scenes which tell John's tales are so beautifully done. I just can't think of a better example of masterful filmmaking. Alas, Leone would make just one more film after this one. But then Once Upon a Time in America is no ordinary swan song.

    All Leone films are visually and aurally brilliant but for me Duck, You Sucker and Once Upon a Time in America stand out primarily because of their superior cinematic content. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is very close to me heart and I feel that it's a film that the Leone fans cherish the most (the theme of greed has seldom been tackled in such an emphatic manner)... In Once Upon a Time in the West, Leone's favorite theme of Greed is beautifully blended with another of Leone's favorite themes, Revenge (Alexander Dumas' body of work too mostly revolved around the themes of greed and revenge... clearly Dumas would have had some influence on Leone).

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  28. Oh yes, Once upon a time in America is the only film of Sergio Leone pending to watch. Need good amount of time and right mindset to get good grasp of this movie. Just waiting for right time. Will be back to comment on how good OUATIA is as compared to other films I have seen.

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  29. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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  30. Now, don't blame me for my ignorance of popular culture, for this human being is no longer one who is motivated by greed, yet still, within his body, he is still one worldly being whom seeks understanding and meaning in his life. However, given that how meaningful this entire picture is, it has, indeed, given me a wonderous time in combination of representing who and what this artist is and what he stands for.

    Indeed, your review mentions old films, many of it which I have little knowledge about. But, as many reviews would mention, the depth of meaning, the wicked timing, the comedic tone and the depth of emotion and stylishness of this picture. And it seems, that, perhaps some might agree with what a critic would say: "The film Wes Anderson was born for.". Well, I would. What's another? Well, a review is written. And this film, gives me the understanding that a review is written to express an individual's viewpoint on a film. But also, I must say, for one who doesn't know how to comment, it is better to "keep their mouth shut". For a symptom that follows for not doing so would be "Uproar" and "Controversy".

    Well, I have seen the film for so many times now, and seeing it agian delighted me to the point of wanting to read up upon a few reviews from a few "Familiar Faces". Which I did. I have written my own summary, but that would be just a tip of the iceberg compared to the vast totality of my countless thoughts upon this picture. It, can be said, as a picture that I would be wanting to watch, again and again, for the rest of my life. Well, that would be, of course, an exaggeration. One day, when I meet Mr. Anderson, I can finally say it to him: "Thank you most kindly, sir." As Jude Law's character had said. I would say it in exactly that tone as well. But who am I? I am just an audience. But if fate, once agian, in it's reliable fashion, intervenes, I suppose that intermission, I wish upon a star, and I do, would be to have an opportunity to thank this artist.

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