Berlinale 2014: Can we stay at ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ forever?

Wes Anderson’s new film opens the proceedings of the 64th Berlin International Film Festival and also opens a drawer full of memories of a common European consciousness – in a humorous and colorful way!

This is the first Wes Anderson film in years, not to feature a romantic subplot, a love being born or dying. Did we miss having it? Not at all! The reason why is that the director’s new film, which examines the human condition like an old-school naturalist would, feels an unbridled love for what Europe once was, beautiful, luxurious, playful and wonderfully fictitious. It tells of things changing, things we leave behind, to accept them in new forms and guises, because this is the way of the world.

With a narrative flashback, a writer decides to take us back to the beginning of the 1930’s, transporting us to the Grand Budapest Hotel, on the eastern side of Europe, a luxurious and regal building, where the old continent’s capricious elite secretly bides its time. The emperor is the concierge Gustave H, who runs the hotel and deals with problems. Gustav befriends young Zero, a dark skinned immigrant trying to make ends meet. When the elderly Madame D. passes away, leaving Gustave an expensive painting for his services, it sets off an intricate cat and mouse chase, full of life lessons and entertaining hops and hikes on snowy European mountains.

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It’s no coincidence that Gutsave and Zero’s adventure takes place at the same time the new black-clad political and military authority is establishing itself across Europe and at the hotel, hiding behind the striking logo of the …Zig Zag.

‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ is packed with all the things we love about Wes Anderson’s films. The scenery is a page out of the quirkiest child’s imagination, with minute details we still haven’t had a chance to process and a wide ranging palette of colors. Anderson generously supplies frames of cheerfulness, a detailed aesthetic style that blends rococo with hip in a glowing stripe. There’s an impressive array of actors, most of which we enjoy for just a moment, the explosive Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Willem Dafoe, F. Murray Abraham, and the long-time collaborators Jason Schwartzman, Jeff Goldblum, Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray and Jude Law as the young writer. Saoirse Ronan appears as the film’s sole, fragile romantic interest.

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But above everyone else, he gives us the surprising duo of Ralph Fiennes and 18 year-old Tony Revolori, as Gustave H and Zero Mustafa respectively, in the celebrated tradition of male comedic duos, but with a more pronounced symbolism and visual abundance.

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If one wishes to see, to merely glimpse behind the façade of the fairytale-like (with inspired stop animation shorts and whole areas constructed as models) exterior of The Grand Budapest Hotel, Mr. Gustave represents the Europe that is fading away, hardly hanging on to its glorious past, which, as the film tells us, was never really all that glorious, but rather managed to appear so. His Europe is like a stylish and inventive gentleman, superfluous and demanding, with an impressive style and grace, that sadly never managed to reach old age. But it is the young immigrant Zero Mustafa, who has nothing to lose and will do anything to survive, that holds the key to the future. The film tells us as much, if the audience chooses to analyze (how very European) what it sees and hears and feels. Otherwise, one can feel contentment and satisfaction, for having watched another masterly yet peculiar, existential crime mystery by Wes Anderson, spreading cheer throughout the day and night and sharing tips for decorating with a slight scent of Air de Panache.

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