The Grand Budapest Hotel (15)

Dec 17, 2014
Cranbrook Film Society

This film is like a fabulous dolls’ house or crazy indulgent pâtisserie confection. Set in wartime in an imaginary Eastern European state, it is idiosyncratic, original and visually stunning.

It is a madcap irreverent comedy, led by a superbly cast Ralph Fiennes, rich in irony, nostalgia and fantasy.

Wes Anderson | USA/Eastern Europe | 2014 | 99 minutes | 15

Film notes:

“a glimmer of civilisation in the barbaric slaughterhouse we know as humanity”. Gustave H.

A prologue within a prologue, within a third prologue leads us to 1932 to the Grand Budapest Hotel in Zubrowka. There, plots and sub-plots are come apart and together like Russian stacking dolls, until we recognise the horror underpinning this high octane, self-indulgent farce. With his usual attention to detail, Director, Wes Anderson keep the timelines distinct by filming each in its appropriate film ratio – 1.33, 1.85 and 2.35.1.

First, we see a sadly diminished hotel, in communist orange, then the glorious Grand Budapest Hotel at its zenith with its concièrge, Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes). Second, we continue with a ludicrous caper through a world of excess, privilege and service against a background of War.

The value of this film is in its construction and its precision. Enter Anderson’s fantasy world as you have entered Pellucidar, Utopia and Middle Earth. Go to ‘’. Learn about Zubrowka. Watch Saoirse Ronan make Mendl’s courtesan pastries. Read the Lutz newspapers, official documents and history. Review “Boy with Apple”. Cinematically, each set is perfect, usually symmetrical and obviously staged. Milena Canonero’s costumes are wonderful. Robert D. Yeoman’s photography is innovative, usually single camera and precisely choreographed by Anderson. Anderson’s hallmarks are static dense frames, long tracking shots moving horizontally in a straight line, stop motion animation in action sequences; placing important features centre stage and unexpected intrusions into symmetry and dialogue. He took his love of symmetry to absurd lengths when he posed for a publicity shot with Jude Law wearing an identical suit and sitting as Law did. Anderson’s idea of a mistake is the misplacing of a false arm in the snow one centimetre from where it ought to be. His idea of a joke was to give Gustave H. 112 as his prison number. That is the alarm number for most of Europe.

Anderson and his friend Hugo Guinness hatched the plot, Anderson wrote the screenplay meticulously: no improvisation here. The author, Stefan Zweig and Filmmaker, Ernst Lubitsch inspired him. Critic Michael Wilmington described Lubitsch’s work as “…elegant and ribald, sophisticated and earthy, urbane and bemused, frivolous yet profound. He could have been describing Gustave H.

The cast is extraordinary in its breadth. It includes four Oscar winners, Adrian Brody, Tilda Swinton, Fisher Stevens and F. Murray Abraham. Each actor speaks with his own accent, which adds to the film’s cosmopolitan flavour. Anderson insisted the cast lived together during filming and had them made up and dressed in the hotel lobby to foster a sense of urgency and unity. Ralph Fiennes is pitch perfect and funny. Saorise Ronan as Agatha the female lead is a delightful foil to Tony Revolori, (Zero Moustapha). These two are perhaps the only characters in the film with whom we can empathise. Tilda Swinton, after twenty hours in make-up is extraordinary as Madame. D.

Alexandre Desplat composed the soundtrack. He worked with Anderson previously on ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ and ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ and was awarded best original Score for ‘Philomena’. The soundtrack is quirky, yet sounds traditional. It is a blend of Eastern European folk music, orchestral elements, ambient drones and variations on melodic themes. Rolling Stone Magazine said of it. “Highlights include the brooding flamenco guitars of ‘Overture: M. Gustave H.’, the brooding church organs of ‘Last Will and Testament’, the bizarre musical box interlude ‘Up the Stairs/Down the Hall,’ the percussive sprawl of ‘A Dash of Salt’, and the creepy haunted house piano styling of ‘Mr Moustafa’.”

In seeking a location, production designer, Adam Stockhausen (‘12 Years a Slave’) and Anderson were initially inspired by a spa town in Western Bohemia, Karlovy Vary, a spa town in Western Bohemia. Karlovy featured in ‘Last Holiday’ and ‘Casino Royale’. The hotel’s birthday cake exterior is a model, fourteen feet long and seven feet deep, now reproduced in Lego.   Its expansive fin de siècle lobby is the Gorlitzel Warenhaus a 1913 Department store in Germany. It was destined for demolition when Anderson took it over for filming, but has since been bought and is being restored. The Arabian baths are in Gorlitz close to the Warenhaus and the hotel dining room was filmed in the old City Hall there.   Gorlitz was the backdrop for ‘Inglorious Bastards’, the ‘Book Thief’, ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ and ‘The Reader’. Madame Celine’s home is Castle Hainewald in Saxony; its interiors are filmed at Schloss Waldenburg.

Mendl’s workshop is based in a wonderful 19th century creamery in Dresden. Note the hand painted tiles. The museum is the Zwinger Rococo palace in Dresden. The Observatory on the Summit of Gabelmeister’s Peak is based on the Sphinx Observatory in the Bernese Oberland.

The highlight of this film may be the prison breakout. The prisoners used tiny pickaxes that had been smuggled to them inside frosted pastries. Watch out also for the terrific dancing marionettes in the credits. Take the brilliant colour palette home with you rather than the understanding that the Grand Budapest Hotel is now a broken down illusion – imaginary or otherwise.

“The beginning of the end of the beginning has begun…the sad finale played off-key on a broken-down saloon piano in the outskirts of a forgotten ghost town. I’d rather not bear witness to such blasphemy.” Gustave H.



            Weighted vote 81.8%