The Grand Budapest Hotel Film Review
By Dima Saqfalhait
“There are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity.”
Watching The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) by Wes Anderson felt exactly like peeking into the doll house I used to play with as a kid. This is of course a trademark of Anderson, who is known for his use of hand-made art direction and self-contained worlds. As a comedy-drama, the film strikes you as a breezy film at first glance. Things happen so fast that you make sure to keep your eyes glued to the screen. Yet, there’s something quite meditative about it; a delicious stillness that provokes reflection, despite the film’s fast pace.
The film employs storytelling techniques in its narration. It opens on the narrator (who is presented as “the author” in the film) telling us, the viewers, how he stumbled upon the story of the Grand Budapest Hotel. As if it is of vital importance to bring to our attention, early on, the fact that this story is not a product of his own imagination:
“It is an extremely common mistake. People think the writer’s imagination is always at work, that he’s constantly inventing an endless supply of incidents and episodes; that he simply dreams up his stories out of thin air. In point of fact, the opposite is true. Once the public knows you’re a writer, they bring the characters and events to you. And as long as you maintain your ability to look, and to carefully listen, these stories will continue to […] seek you out, uh, over your lifetime. To him, who has often told the tales of others, many tales will be told.”
As it turns out, “the author” was once a lodger at The Grand Budapest Hotel, alas not in its heydays but rather when it became an abandoned and rundown building. Yet, he was fortunate to hear the story of the hotel through Mr. Moustafa, the present owner of the hotel. Mr. Moustafa, who is an immigrant fleeing war in his country, was once the lobby boy at the hotel, Zero. Zero received his job-training under the close mentorship and guidance of the charming Monsieur Gustav.
“What is a lobby boy? A lobby boy is completely invisible, yet always in sight. A lobby boy remembers what people hate. A lobby boy anticipates the client’s needs before the needs are needed. A lobby boy is, above all, discreet to a fault. Our guests know that their deepest secrets, some of which are frankly rather unseemly, will go with us to our graves. So keep your mouth shut, Zero.”
The film unravels in such a way that both Mr. Gustav and Zero Moustafa become the closest of friends. Through a series of “unfortunate events”, the skills that both characters have honed while serving at the hotel, come to their service. They help them survive during periods of greed and injustice.
“Rudeness is merely an expression of fear. People fear they won’t get what they want. The most dreadful and unattractive person only needs to be loved, and they will open up like a flower.”
The film is unique in its colour palette (blue, purple, pink, and vibrant reds), which distinctively corresponds with the actions and where they take place. Even the exterior colours of the hotel change with the passage of time (and the rise of fascism). Everything is meticulously placed in the mise-en-scene of the film, including the characters themselves, who move in calculated steps within the frame. To add to the “perfect” feeling of the film, poetry is recited at every opportunity. The Grand Budapest Hotel can indeed be described as a light-hearted film, yet, it does not fail to tackle problematic issues.
The film felt timeless to me, for although it refers to particular years in its narrative, it feels highly relevant to our modern-day events. Although the film does not directly refer to historical events, one can clearly see the rise of fascism, particularly in the military invasion of the hotel later on in the film. There are also constant hints at the war that Mustafa fled from, perhaps in the Middle East? Many studies went in depth about the symbolism of the characters and what they stand for (bisexuals, Jews, immigrants… and other “problematic” branding heavily used in media) which are worth reading. Personally, I would enjoy writing about food symbolism in the film in the film, although I’m certain someone must have beaten me there.
The film felt almost perfect to me. I kept telling my friend “what a beautiful film!” as we happily watched it. I couldn’t contain my excitement as it’s been a while since I last watched an entertaining film that is not short of being a masterpiece. I now realize I may have used the word “beautiful” loosely to describe other films before, yet this one is literally, uncannily, candy-like beautiful. You can feast your eyes on these photos until you get to watch the film and witness its beauty for yourself.
For more film quotations and recommendations, you can follow Dima Saqfalhait’s Instagram account @cine.words