Hero And Zero
Ralph Fiennes is on top (and unexpectedly funny) form in Wes Anderson’s latest foray into frenetic madness, which is comic and tragic in equal measure.
15, 100 min
Melancholy is one way to describe Wes Anderson’s latest film, but I’m not quite sure that that would do it justice. It’s a great big tantalising film-within-a-film-within-a-film, and having not seen any of Anderson’s work before, some of it was, in many ways, quite unexpected. I wasn’t aware of just how controlled the director likes his films to be, but if this is anything to go by, he operates with great precision and intricacy. I also wasn’t aware that this was going to be that plot-orientated a venture, having heard many wacky things about the auteur, but newsflash: it’s all a bit complicated. Stay with me while I try and get my head around it.
In 1985, a man known only as The Author (Tom Wilkinson, below) recounts how he first met Zero Moustafa, the elderly owner of the Grand Budapest Hotel in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka, when he was a young man (Jude Law). Zero agrees to tell The Author the story of his life and how he came to own the hotel, which The Author will later use to write the novel ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’. Still with me?
In 1968, The Author and the elderly Zero sit down in the Hotel’s dining room, and then we flash back again to 1932, when Zero worked there as a lobby boy. Enter the plot. Enter the madness. And also, enter Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) stage right, as the concierge of the Grand Budapest, for whom young Zero (Tony Revolori) comes to act as a sort of apprentice. What follows is a zany, thoughtful, surprisingly funny buddy movie with added undertones of war and sadness. But don’t worry, because it’s also a blast, with Fiennes proving, surprisingly, to have quite the way with a one-liner. The tone of the whole enterprise, though, is well-balanced, with the right emotions coming forth at just the right times.
And aside from our concierge, the rest of the cast is to die for, too (quite literally in some cases). Tilda Swinton’s character forms the basis of the plot, but she, like the rest of the formidable body of actors assembled here, isn’t around for long. Wes Anderson regulars Bill Murray and Owen Wilson, alongside others like Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum and Harvey Keitel, are each onscreen for about five minutes. The only ones who get to stick around are Fiennes, Revolori and Saoirse Ronan (below), who plays fiendish local cake-shop gal Agatha (who should by rights be Swiss, or… Zubrowki, or something like that) with the strongest Irish accent I’ve yet heard her come out with on film.
In real life, hotels are usually full of weird and wonderful types of people from all over the place, and this one is no different (although having a diverse and talented cast at your disposal does help). But the Grand Budapest is also as fragile as one of Agatha’s confections – it could come toppling down at any moment.
And worlds like this, which are on the brink of destruction, or at the very least regeneration (perhaps quite like our own) need someone as a figurehead. To Zero, Gustave is a hero – in his own decidedly oddball fashion, he’s the one last bastion of decency in a world coming to be ravaged by the Second World War. Whether or not Zero’s view constitutes the truth is entirely another matter, as we see a rather murky side to the concierge’s character aside from his unexpected knack for humour. But I think that might be the point. This is Zero’s vision of things, and long after the Grand Budapest’s lift shaft has rusted and its long-vacant ruin has turned to dust, the tales will still be there. And that, to me, is the film’s most profound message. Once everything else has gone, the words remain, and that’s a comforting thought. In the imagination, the Grand Budapest Hotel will stand forever, an illusion, perhaps, but a wondrous one to behold nonetheless.
So though it may equally be bonkers, it touches on some striking emotional truths, and by the time the film comes to a stately close and turns the final page, you might just find yourself wanting to start it again. In a way, it’s like a good book, in that it was only on reflection, after the credits rolled, that I realised what I truly thought of it. And me, well, gosh, to coin a Gustave-esque phrase, I decided that I rather liked the darn thing. So my advice would be to take the plunge and get in the lift. Going up?