Review: 'The Grand Budapest Hotel'

Mar 7, 2014
Originally published on March 7, 2014 5:29 pm
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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Filmmaker Wes Anderson makes movies that are eccentric, pointedly artificial and, to his fans, very funny. From his early comedies "Rushmore" and "The Royal Tannenbaums," to last year's Oscar-nominated "Moonrise Kingdom," Anderson's movies have looked and sounded different from everyone else's in Hollywood. And critic Bob Mondello says that streak continues with his spoof of extravagant 1930s melodramas. It's called "The Grand Budapest Hotel."

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: The hotel looks a bit like a pink wedding cake perched atop a Swiss Alp. Ralph Fiennes is its concierge, Mr. Guztav H., who wears a purple tux, reeks of cologne, and likes his dowagers rich, old, insecure, vain, superficial, and blonde, a description that fits Tilda Swinton's Madame D. to a T.

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MONDELLO: Repulsion aside, Monsieur Gustave calms her down with poetry and, accompanied by a lobby boy named Zero, sends her on her way.

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MONDELLO: Alas, shortly after leaving the hotel, Madame D. dies mysteriously, so he rushes to her bedside.

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MONDELLO: Then discovers that she's left him a priceless painting and that her family is less than pleased.

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MONDELLO: You'll be gathering that director Wes Anderson is simultaneously trafficking in and mocking 1930s nostalgia in "Grand Budapest Hotel." But the ornamented and stylized frivolity here isn't just frivolous. The film takes its inspiration from the now mostly forgotten work of Stefan Zweig, an Austrian Jew who wrote lightweight novels and plays while watching from afar as his country was overrun by the Nazis.

The movie is set in a fictional Eastern European republic, but its refined aristocrats and jackbooted soldiers are clear enough stand-ins. In the real world, that era ended in carnage. And while the movie doesn't take the story quite that far on screen, the threat of what-will-be hovers even as the director offers up impish riffs on movie forms, say, an action-flick chase.

EDWARD NORTON: (As Inspector Henckels) I want 50 men and 10 bloodhounds ready in five minutes.

MONDELLO: ...a World War II prison thriller...

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MONDELLO: ...a whodunit...

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MONDELLO: ...and even a decorous slasher flick.

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MONDELLO: All of this movie-based riffing is set within not one but two framing devices, the '30s story being a long flashback inside a '60s flashback from the '80s. The later sequences have their own narrative - letting Mr. Gustave's sidekick Zero, a refugee from the Middle East, become the guardian of the European values that were once used to exclude him. There are star cameos galore. And as if that profusion of references and complications weren't enough, Anderson shoots each of the film's periods in a different aspect ratio - newer scenes widescreen, '30s sequences essentially square like films of that era.

Does it sound like too much? Well, that's part of what makes Wes Anderson such an intriguing filmmaker. In an ever-more-homogenized Hollywood, he is an acquired taste, certainly, but one that's absolutely worth acquiring, something you'll gather from even a short stay at "The Grand Budapest Hotel." I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.