The Trap Of The Author – The Grand Budapest Hotel


Everyone banged on about it, so Fikri Jermadi decided to check in and check out Wes Anderson’s latest flick.

In watching ‘The Grand Budapest’ hotel, I am reminded of what I had written previously about his films for this very site about previous Wes Anderson efforts, ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’ and ‘Darjeeling Limited’. For the animated film, I wrote that “most of the shots are shot either directly in front or at the side of the characters…the actors are blocked (positioned) almost as if they’re in a theatre production.”

The ironic thing is that right now, I’m marking an honours thesis written by a student about the authorship of Wes Anderson. Quite a lot of people smarter than me, as it turns out, have written about this aspect of his cinema.

It does not make it any less invalid (or otherwise). Rather, it serves as a further reminder of the double-edged sword that is authorship.

Purple. Not so gay now, is it?
Purple. Not so gay now, is it?

The Grand Budapest hotel tells the story of a man named Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who recounts to a character identified as The Author (Jude Law) about his life and how he came to acquire The Grand Budapest Hotel. He starts from the beginning, telling of the story of Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), who was ultimately his first boss at the hotel in his days as a lobby boy. The younger Moustafa (Tony Revolori) even found time to fall in love with Agatha (Saoirse Ronan), a young girl. All were to come in handy to aid Gustave as he apparently inherits the hotel from its owner, Madame D (Tilda Swinton).

I say apparently, because the rest of Madame D’s family, led by Dmitri (Adrien Brody) weren’t happy about this. Off they go to the races, chasing and hunting after Gustave at a relentless pace.

As a whole, as I have mentioned above, the whole film plays out almost exactly as you would have expected it. The art direction were colourful and superb, and as mentioned, this mise-en-scene was portrayed expertly within a very fixed and slightly unconventional mise-en-shot. Quite frankly, not many people are all that comfortable with characters looking at them straight in the eye, and what appears to be the breaking of fourth walls with reckless abandon may not quite be everyone’s cup of tea. I do like a little unconventional ideas every once in a while, so I quite enjoyed this difference.

Therein lies the trick. As I have mentioned above, Wes Anderson has established such a strong brand for himself. I know that the word ‘brand’ and the director should not be considered as mutually beneficial in this context, but the fact remains that many a film aficionado have a strong idea of what his films are like. I’d argue that while they are all different in their own ways, it has developed to the point where it becomes almost like a prison.

Checking to make sure there are no (lovely) bones in the mix.
Checking to make sure there are no (lovely) bones in the mix.

For example, it’s really difficult to see him breaking with his own conventions and place the camera over someone’s shoulders. It also becomes tricky should he wish to adopt a different approach, where the camera is handheld instead of fixed on a dolly track, ready to be moved sideways when required.

Of course, I am seemingly busting someone’s balls for what the film is not. That’s not entirely fair, truth be told. I could well understand that this is a film of immense quality. I loved the performances by all the different cast members. One of the aspects of that honours thesis explored Anderson’s relationship with his recurring cast members, paying an especial focus on Bill Murray. It’s not surprise for me to say that he turns up here as well, in addition to a few others. For my part, it’s always pleasant to see Edward Norton and Jeff Goldblum grace any screen, for reasons related to quality as much as nostalgia; whatever it does, Jeff always has a place in my heart for his role in the Jurassic Park films.

I suppose that is one of the biggest draws of the film, how it plays with the idea of nostalgia and longing. Set in the past, there are clear references to great episodes of European history not everyone really wants to know (the film was set in the fictional country of Zubrowka), and there are clear references to an impending war led by an army not quite unlike the Nazis of Germany. There are many (con)textual readings to be done here, but quite frankly, I don’t feel like doing that right now.

Instead, I will finish this review with…F. Murray Abraham. Soon after this film was announced as a leading contender at this year’s Oscar awards, I noted how this that award ceremony does not actually affect the commercial perception of any given film or performer in any given roles. Many (including this film) will be re-released either theatrically or on home video, with the hope that the greater brand recognition will lead to increased backend dollars. That usually has an impact of some sort, but the awards themselves do not lend greater and automatic commercial respectability to the winners.

We always have time for Jeff. Mind your fingers, though...
We always have time for Jeff. Mind your fingers, though…

Recently it was revealed that Charlize Theron received less money than her co-star Chris Hemsworth for their respective roles in an upcoming film. Almost immediately, this was branded as a sex-based conflict, an example of Hollywood discriminating against a female Oscar winner. Whether that is true or not, the fact remains that her box office record, in terms of actual collections, cannot and probably will not match that of Hemsworth, a man who, rightly or wrongly, has stronger numbers. Whatever people say, ‘Aeon Flux’ did not make as much money as ‘Thor’ did, however shiny that Oscar shines brightly on her mantelpiece.

The same goes for Abraham. I loved him in a variety of roles since, but this is the first time I’ve seen him in a while, despite him being an Oscar winner way back when for ‘Amadeus’.

Nostalgia. That’s what you’ll get from a Wes Anderson film, by hook or by crook.

Fikri now wonders whether this review made much sense for you. ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ is nominated in the Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Original Screenplay, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Original Score, Best Film Editing, Best Production Design and Best Costume Design categories at the 87th Academy Awards. It won the Best Musical or Comedy Motion Picture at the 72nd Golden Globes Awards.

Featured image credit: Swiss Hotel Association

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