Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel is not so much a visual movie as a furnished movie. And what’s it furnished with? Neologisms made up of Mitteleuropaische sounding words (a joke that begins to pale), bloody noses, pastry from a place called Mendl’s, a supposed masterpiece called “Boy with Apple” that is replaced by a Schiele look-alike of a woman fingering her female lover and lots of antiques. The switching of the Schiele for the “Boy with Apple” is one of the most significant  devices of the movie since it talks to a misconception about value that underlies the narrative, but that is never fully realized. “I think his world had vanished long before he entered it,” says Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the current proprietor of the now almost defunct hotel about his mentor M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes).”But he sustained the illusion with amazing grace.” One wishes the same could have been said about Wes Anderson. He certainly knows how to pack a scene with set pieces which are both cartoons and relics, but in the end they're very much like the pastries from Mendl’s. There may be an art to making pastry, but pastry is not art. Sweetness rather than timelessness defines the pleasure of a Sachertorte. And what about those bloody noses? Are Anderson’s concierges bloodied by history which turns a dream of elegance into a shambles? It’s another strand of plot that never gets developed. But if all the décor weren’t enough then you add Tilda Swinton, Ed Norton, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, William Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum to the lineup and you have your typical Hollywood blockbuster in Austro-Hungarian clothing. Grand Hotel (1932) similarly set Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford and John Barrymore in Berlin, but it was an inimitable classic. The Grand Budapest Hotel may have been inspired by the writings of Stephen Zweig, whose Amazon sales are undoubtedly getting a shot in the arm, due to the movie. However, the film exudes none of the perspicacity of Zweig nor that of his confrere the novelist Joseph Roth, who wrote so tellingly about the twilight of a similar era.

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