When most films have issues with duration, it is the issue of lasting too long. The problem with Wes Anderson’s latest, [The Grand Budapest Hotel](movie:400227), however, lies in its brevity. The film, running at just over ninety-nine minutes, fails to give Anderson enough time to flesh out all of his characters. Despite Anderson’s usual talent for fleshing out large ensemble casts, he only manages to give the two central characters dimension, the rest of the cast merely serving as ornamental. The two leads, both newcomers to Anderson’s otherwise consistent casting, are Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori—both of which fit into Anderson’s tone remarkably, with the young Tony Revolori giving a far more consistent performance than his young predecessors in Moonrise Kingdom. The brevity of the film is especially noticeable in the abrupt ending, which ends just as quickly as the final shootout begins, and proceeds to wrap the story up through exposition in a neat little box with a bow on top, not unlike Mendl’s pastry delights.
For a director who is often criticized for staying too much in his comfort zone, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a big step for Anderson. The film takes place in a fictional country that is being affected by a war, featuring many allusions to World War II. While these events primarily serve more as a backdrop to the main plot, they do add to the amount of violence in this film, which comes in a far greater dose when compared to the average Anderson film. The violence serves as a self-parody; with it, Anderson acknowledges the complaint against his perfect worlds. The protagonist of the film, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), often recites romantic poetry, but his recitals are always interrupted, often by sudden acts of violence. This violence (a bloody cat, a decapitated head, severed fingers, etc.) serves to interrupt the beauty and romanticism of Anderson’s highly-constructed world—he’s showing his critics that he realizes the brutality and messiness of the real world outside of his pristine dollhouses.
It isn’t a coincidence that the Budapest Hotel looks like a life-sized dollhouse. Possibly the largest jest towards Anderson, even before Fantastic Mr. Fox, was that he treats filmmaking as if he was playing in a dollhouse. Taking this as encouragement, Anderson went on to craft a stop motion film—using dolls to tell a story where he was able to control every minute detail within the film frame. Fantastic Mr. Fox is just as much of a self-parody as The Grand Budapest Hotel, and both of these films take Anderson into new territory: stop-motion and fictional period dramas respectively.
The major complaint from the critics—that Anderson increasingly references himself rather than the world around him— is addressed immediately by the film. The multiple framing technique draw obvious attention to itself on purpose; Anderson is not unconsciously inserting three separate frames—it draws attention to the crafted architecture of the story: a student reads the story of a man who recreated the story he was told. This is Anderson self-parodying himself yet again— the world he has constructed is seen through so many layers of memory that it fails to be realistic, but succeeds in being a somewhat Faulknarian, purposeful reinvention of memory.
Anderson paradoxically pushes towards self-parody of his originality rather than new originality. A friend of mine, a professor at the University of South Florida, recently told me that he was “bored stiff by the countless repetition of the same effects.” In this respect, the film can barely stand on its two feet, counting on his other films for support, as any self-parody does. Certainly, the film is far more interesting and layered when considering the rest of his filmography, but appears to the average movie goer as a typical story filled with brilliant aesthetics and effects—not unlike the average blockbuster, filled with pleasing aesthetics, yet little depth. Clearly, it has more artistic integrity than the average blockbuster, but, in comparison with Anderson’s other narratives, this one doesn’t show as much effort. The narrative isn’t as nuanced or complex as Anderson’s other films, suffering from a fairly straight-forward scenario, which, ironically, involves framing—this time the framing of Ralph Fiennes’ character by Adrien Brody’s. Anderson pays special attention to framing throughout the film—placing the second copy of the second will within the frame of Madame D.’s (Tilda Swinton) painting.
Anderson’s narrative isn’t the only shortcoming in this film; some of Anderson’s technical indulgences pay off while others don’t. When the older counterpart of Zero (F. Murray Abraham) is first introduced, overlap editing is used; the camera moves towards Zero, sitting in the hotel lobby, from three different angles. Overlap editing is typically more noticeable; we imagine action films where the car is shown exploding from three different angles. Anderson’s use of it here, however, was flawless enough that my viewing partner couldn’t even remember it happening. Yet in another scene, when the older Zero sheds a tear while remembering Agatha (Saoirse Ronan), the lighting in the restaurant is suddenly, severely dimmed. We get a close-up on Zero’s tearful face and the lighting kicks up again to accentuate the tear on Zero’s cheek. This lighting indulgence doesn’t pay off as well as most other technical liberties— it comes off as too cliché, inciting a laugh where there should have been a tear.
The interrupted beauty theme is also a response to the accusation of “countless repetition”; Anderson is addressing with this violence that he’s capable of attempting new things, things that don’t fit in with his typical style. Though this may be a good step in the right direction for Anderson—stepping outside of his comfort zone and producing something slightly unlike what he is comfortable with—this step isn’t big enough. The next step in his artistic growth would be to stop focusing on the critics’ complaints—to step outside of himself and reference different themes—themes that don’t revolve around the fantastical world of Wes Anderson.