by Steve Habrat
By this point, you know if you’re a proud member of the Wes Anderson fan club. After films like Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenebaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Moonrise Kingdom, you know if you’ve developed a taste for his meticulously organized frames, quirky casts of characters, dry sense of humor, and surprisingly touching dramatics. If you’re one that hasn’t been tickled by Anderson’s cinematic efforts, don’t expect anything to change with The Grand Budapest Hotel, which finds the auteur indulging his whimsical artistry like a kid in a candy store. With all of the usual traits in place, Anderson sends the audience spiraling through a small slice of history—one fashioned from the winking cartoonish touches that Anderson has become noted and celebrated for. While this zany murder mystery is contagiously colorful and cute even in its raunchier moments, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a fuzzy tribute to storytelling, and a sugary tribute to classic slapstick comedy of years past presented to the viewer in 1.33 aspect ratio, common in silent cinema, which appears to be a major influence here. And then there is his cast, a list bursting at the seams with fresh and familiar faces ready to take a big bite out of the oddball creations that Anderson has scribbled up for them.
The Grand Budapest Hotel tells the story of Monsieur Gustave H (played by Ralph Fiennes), the beloved concierge of the magnificent Grand Budapest Hotel, nestled in the snowy mountains of the Republic of Zubrowka. The tale picks up in 1932, with young lobby boy Zero Moustafa (played by Tony Revolori) arriving at The Grand Budapest Hotel and having his first encounters with Gustave H. It turns out that Gustave H was carrying on an affair with a wealthy elderly woman named Madame D (played by Tilda Swinton), who, while visit Gustave H, reveals that she has a premonition that something bad is going to happen. Despite Madame D’s concerns, Gustave H laughs off her premonition, but a few weeks later, Madame D turns up dead under mysterious circumstances. Together, Gustave H and Zero travel to Madame D’s home, where her will is read to a house full of grieving friends and family members. Much to the horror of the guests, Madame D’s will states that she is leaving him a coveted painting called “Boy with Apple,” something that enraged her son, Dmitri (played by Adrien Brody), who vows to come after Gustave H. After making off with “Boy with Apple” and returning to the hotel, things get worse for Gustave H when authorities led by Inspector Henckels (played by Edward Norton) arrive to arrest him for the death of Madame D. Stuck behind bars and with Zubrowka on the brink of war, Gustave H races to escape from prison and prove his innocence with the help of Zero and some unlikely inmates. Meanwhile, a shadowy assassin called J.P. Jopling (played by Willem Dafoe) closes in on Gustave H and those closest to him.
There isn’t a shot in The Grand Budapest Hotel that isn’t littered with Anderson’s cinematic fingerprints. Nearly each and every frame is neatly arranged down to the fussy tilts of a pencil or the messy stack of legal documents. It’s unmistakably Anderson to the point where if you scrubbed his name from the credits, it wouldn’t take the audience long to figure out that it sprouted from his distinct imagination. There are the tracking shots that explore the inside of The Grand Budapest Hotel as if someone sliced it down the center and peered into it like a dollhouse. There are also the glaringly artificial miniatures, which Anderson presents with his expected winks and grins. Though what sets The Grand Budapest Hotel apart from other Anderson fare is the nods to classic cinema, particularly silent slapstick comedies. The Grand Budapest Hotel could be muted and converted to black and white, have intertitles placed strategically throughout, and the film would work marvelously as a silent comedy. There are also a number of chase sequences throughout the film, the most outstanding—and vaguely Hitchcockian/German Expressionist—is a shadowy game of cat-and-mouse through a museum between Dafoe’s vampiric thug J.P. Jopling and Jeff Goldblum’s lawyer, Deputy Vilmos Kovacs. It’s the highlight of the picture, followed closely by a snowy ski chase that keeps you doubled over in laughter over how preposterous the action is.
As usual, Anderson enlists the help of an ensemble cast, many of which will be familiar to Anderson aficionados. The newcomer here is Fiennes, who takes great pleasure in applying his gentlemanly demeanor to Gustave H, the flamboyant concierge who sleeps with elderly woman, gags at the thought of drinking cheap wine, and is bound-and-determined not to become the “candyass” in prison. Fiennes is exquisite, but hot on his coattails is Dafoe, who excels in the role of the stocky assassin J.P. Jopling, a brick of a man who sports skull rings on each one of his fingers and mercilessly tosses cats out of windows. Other standouts include Norton’s dweebie Inspector Henckles, the barely-recognizable Swinton as the elderly Madame D (she’s basically an extended cameo that acts more as a visual chuckle), and Revolori’s Zero, Gustave H’s young sidekick who inks on his pencil-thin mustache and essential acts as our guide through the halls of the hotel. There are a number of other cameos from faces you’d expect to see, although, the most severely underused is Saoirse Ronan’s Agatha, Zero’s birth marked love interest who isn’t give much to do yet acts as a huge emotional weight. Overall, though The Grand Budapest Hotel may not rank as my favorite Wes Anderson picture, and it may not be as funny or tender as some of his previous work, it’s still an enchanting ode to the art of storytelling (it concludes with a nod to Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig), and to the eternal joys of silent cinema.
by Corinne Rizzo
The death of an immediate family member can take time to recover from. Weeks, months, years can pass and still one might find themselves just below the lines of reality, almost waiting for the next fucked up thing to happen, but when you’ve got a brother like Francis, played by Owen Wilson in Wes Anderson’s fifth feature, who hides the fact that he’s attempted suicide and executes an elaborate trip to India via rail, all to become close to his two other brothers again, the mourning process expedites and the bullshit habits that have been sliding by since that death are no longer tolerated. As Francis says best, after getting his shoe stolen, “We’re in an emergency here,” and with that, The Darjeeling Limited thrusts these three brothers onto a path of healing that none of them would have taken alone.
The film opens with Adrien Brody’s character, Peter, chasing down a train that he’s about to miss, bypassing Bill Murray as the business man, who was simply casted for this one scene, and this is where the symbolism begins. Yes, all great movies have hidden and blatant attempts at sending a message, but The Darjeeling Limited is defined by these moments without getting cheesy or overworked. Here, Peter is a hair away from missing the opportunity of a lifetime, to recover from a personal tragedy and reconnect with his brothers, though it is apparent, just as it is apparent that he is about to miss the train, that Peter is the one that needs the most convincing. In fact, it’s possible that he wasn’t going to get on that train at all, considering we learn that he never told his wife Alice that we was going in the first place.
When Peter does make it onto the Darjeeling Limited, a character in herself, brightly colored in turquoise and golden yellow, he travels down the entirety of the train, the commuter portion, the economy travel portion, to the compartments of the upper class, where he finds his brother Jack asleep and his brother Francis missing.
The audience can immediately see Peter’s mood change once in the presence of Jack. They celebrate by smoking cigarettes and when Francis gets to the cabin, the phrase “Let’s get a drink and smoke a cigarette,” is used for the first time to signal a state of celebration. Almost as a marker to signify getting over a hump.
The use of painkillers and alcohol in this film are commonly attributed to the three brothers being addicted to these substances, though the use of these drugs is directly related to the family experience and nowhere in the film is anyone fiending or even talking about them other than the one scene where everyone is explaining what they have after a coincidental moment of everyone trying to relieve their own pain. Again, symbolism exists here, even for the most conservative audience member.
Peter is wearing his father’s sunglasses, which have a prescription in them, causing his head to constantly ache. Francis ran his motorcycle into the side of a hill, smashing his face in and Peter…well Peter has a lot of growing up to do. Not that Anti Film School condones the use of drugs, though the use of drugs in film can have an interesting outcome. We are open to these things. In film.
Peter, Jack, and Francis stop in what are considered the most spiritual places in India, all coordinated by Brendan, Francis’s only friend and assistant, and while in these spiritual places are overcome by consumerism attempting to track down power adapters, shoes and pretty much anything else money can buy, including a deadly poisonous snake (chosen by Peter), which eventually gets them confined to their compartment, and ultimately thrown off the train, upsetting the plan to find their mother, Sister Patricia Whitman, somewhere out on a mission.
The plan to find Patricia was also masterminded by Francis, and never unveiled to his brothers until just before they were thrown off the train.
The boys go through stages of wanting to kill each other, then stages of unrelenting affection and back again and The Darjeeling Limited is the story of their estrangement and their subsequent bonding, all of which couldn’t happen in a more beautiful setting. The colors are extravagant and breath taking, the scenes are crisp, the wardrobes, when not stunning, provoke a sense of humor.
Inspired by the films of Satyajit Ray and peppered with the sounds of classic Indian films (and also The Kinks), Wes Anderson kills it in The Darjeeling Limited, bringing again his sense of adventure to the story of family dysfunction and unconditional love. His passion for story telling is apparent in this film more than any other by saturating the story of Francis, Peter and Jack with color, sound, and humor.
Grade: A +
Top Five Reasons to Watch The Darjeeling Limited:
1) Adrien Brody’s debut in Anderson films (let’s hope he sticks around).
2) All of Anderson’s films have a sense of antiquity that in this film is broken with the use of an iPod and dock.
3) The music!
4) Kumar Pallana
5) Check out that scene where Peter “goes to pray at a different thing”. What the hell is that kid watching him for and what is he holding?