GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

by Max Sparber in


The whole world is going Wes Anderson, if you hadn’t noticed. Young lovers stroll the boulevards, hand in hand, dressed in primary colored woolen anoraks and recite the lyrics to Kinks songs to each other as though expressing declarations of love.

Employees look to their employment garb and find it wanting, replacing it with whimsical uniforms. They manically set-dress their places of employment so that everything is tidy and lived-in, with flourishes of whimsy. All would look just right seen through an anamorphic lens, with one side of the room being an almost perfect mirror to the other.

You have not noticed this? I have. I am guilty of it myself.

Old men have become lonely. I suppose old men were always lonely, but now there is an art to it, an existential ache that has both a Bill Murray wryness and a Bruce Willis flintiness. And now, thanks to The Grand Budapest Hotel, the belabored juvenilia that was the cupcake craze will be replaced with the decadent sophistication of the pâtisserie, cramped apartments will be turned into miniature hotel rooms or hunting lodges, and, rather than recite The Kinks, young lovers will actually start declaiming Romantic poetry, as does the film’s lead character. This is the orchidaceous and heavily perfumed sommelier M. Gustave H., played by Ralph Fiennes, who may be the perfect Wes Anderson actor, and not simply because his full name actually is Ralph Nathaniel Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes.

There is a risk in making films like Wes Anderson does. Great film stylists, especially those with styles that can be easily aped or parodied, are always a bit of an appealing target. Kubrick was -- his films are now almost universally regarded as masterpieces, but were the subjects of especially blinkered criticism when they first appeared in theaters. After Breathless, Godard was frequently treated as an irritant, and the French New Wave consigned to college films studies classes. Orson Welles ended his career drunkenly making commercials for frozen peas and narrating an animated Transformers movies.

And, tellingly, these are Wes Anderson’s influences, or some of them, anyway. There are few things the world dislikes more than a show off.

Although, in some ways, Anderson is the opposite of his influences. His films are often well received, but, then, as time passes and the blush falls from the rose, they are remembered as regrettably slight, far more concerned with typeface choices and the crafting of intricate dioramas than of communicating anything meaningful. This may be Anderson’s particular burden -- he will be remembered for his style, rather than what he wishes to communicate through his aesthetic choices. 

With every new film, critics and audiences seem to discover anew that Anderson’s films are haunted by the heartbreak of death, that his characters are deeply wounded, and that his old men are defined by regret and painful memories. His world is a exquisite box built to contain sadness, and too often people focus exclusively on the box and not on its contents.

Or they think, as with the pink and ribbon-wrapped boxes from Mendl’s in this film, that they contain Courtesan au Chocolat and nothing else. But, in Grand Budapest Hotel, even the pastries have metal in them, and lead to violence.

Max Sparber

Max Sparber is a historian, playwright, and critic. Follow him on Twitter or email him with your arts events at maxsparber@gmail.com.

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