Friday, March 14, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel [2014]

MPAA (PG-13)  ChicagoTribune (3 1/2 Stars) (4 Stars)  AVClub (B+)  Fr. Dennis (1 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

The single biggest problem with The Grand Budapest Hotel [2014] (directed and cowritten by Wes Anderson along with screenplay by Hugo Guinness, inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig [IMDb]) for someone like me (of Czech extraction, hence from exactly the part of the world where this film was to have taken place) IS THE FILM'S TIMELINE:

And while I suppose I should thank Wes Anderson, et al that they didn't go "the full Borat [2006]" route, the very setup of the film betrays an obvious and continued (and I do suspect at least partly willful) Western "disinterest" in that (my family's ...) part of the world.  And it actually would not have taken much to get it right ...

So what the heck am I complaining about?

Well as the title suggests, the films about the former "going-ons" in the inter-war years (1918-1939) at the "Grand Budapest Hotel" (Budapest being the capital of Central Europe's Hungary) set somewhere in the "Sudeten Alps" (the Sudeten Mountains making the border of the Czechlands/Bohemia with Austria and Germany, the Alps crossing over much of Austria and sloping down into Slovenia) in a fictitious "Republic of Zubrowka" (a Polish sounding name) with a nascent Fascist leaning government (again could be Poland, Hungary, Romania, perhaps Croatia) and whose soldiers/police officers were still wearing basically pre-WW-I Hapsburg-era Austria-Hungarian uniforms.  UP UNTIL THIS POINT, I HAVE TO SAY THE SETUP IS BRILLIANT.  If one's going to invent a country FROM THAT BETWEEN WARS ERA IN THAT PART OF THE WORLD, THIS IS HOW ONE WOULD DO IT.

What I object to is what follows.  The story is being told to an English traveler/writer (played by Jude Law) who visits the since declined hotel in 1968 (!) and again in 1985 (!) by the (by 1985...) aging PROPRIETOR of the hotel, Zero Moustava (played as an old man by F. Murray Abraham) who (mild SPOILER ALERT) in the hotel's 1930s "heyday" had been one of the hotel's lowest ranking staff members, the concierge M. Gustave's (played BRILLIANTLY by Ralph Fiennes) "lobby boy" (played by Toni Revolori).

My question is: WHERE in Eastern/Central Europe could this Hotel have been when in 1968 or 1985 Zero Moustava would have still been able TO OWN IT?   The ONLY conceivable place where Moustava could have continued TO OWN that hotel would have been in Austria (It's the ONLY of the above mentioned countries that WASN'T COMMUNIST at the time) and then it's almost certain that the Hotel WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN CALLED THEN "GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL" ...

Now there would have been SIMPLE WORK-AROUNDS to resolve this rather KEY HISTORICAL PROBLEM:

(1) The English writer could have met the older Zero Moustava IN EXILE, perhaps as a proprietor of a small hotel on Italy's Adriatic coast, or perhaps an owner a nice central European restaurant be it in a "Grand City" like London, Paris or New York, or more likely in a smaller more ethnic one like in New Jersey, Ohio or yes EVEN IN CHICAGO (lots of Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians, Serbs, Croatians, Slovenians, even ... Ukrainians here ...)

or (2) The English writer COULD HAVE ENCOUNTERED the older Zero Moustava STILL WORKING AT THE DECLINED "Grand Hotel Budapest" run in 1968 / 1985 by some State controlled "workers' collective" AS PLACES LIKE THIS WERE ACTUALLY RUN (and MANY would say RUN BADLY, RUN INTO THE GROUND...) DURING THE COMMUNIST ERA IN ALL THE ABOVE MENTIONED COUNTRIES.

In both cases, the 30s-era story still would have worked, but the rest of the film would have been MUCH MORE HISTORICALLY ACCURATE.

There are actually at least two films that use that second option to tell their stories.  The first is Bernardo Bertulucci's The Last Emperor [1987], about the last emperor of China who was born to be emperor but (in the film) ended up living-out the closing years of his life (during the Communist Era) as part of the grounds-keeping staff of Beijing's "Forbidden Palace" where he had once lived.  The second is a Czech dramedy entitled I Served the King of England [2006] that both made its rounds in the West a number of years ago and traverses much of the same ground as Wes Anderson's current film, but remembers that all these "grand places" were confiscated by the Communists when they took power in these countries.

And I make this criticism as an otherwise fan of this film and of Wes Anderson's other works like The Royal Tannenbaums [2001] and Moonrise Kingdom [2012] all dead-pan comedies with great ensemble casts.

So after this rather extended criticism on what to many Americans/Westerners would certainly seem "a rather small matter" (but to us, who're originally from there ...) what then is this film about?

It's about "a lost era" -- between the wars Central Europe -- and about this grand concierge M. Gustave (played again EXQUISITELY by Ralph Fiennes) who in the aging Zero Moustava's (played again by F. Murray Abraham) estimation helped make that era "Great" and worthy of being lamented now that it is gone.

So what make M. Gustave, grand concierge at the Grand Budapest Hotel so great?  Well by the time he arrived at the level of being the grand concierge for the hotel, he had been perfectly groomed for the job.  He knew the hotel, he knew the clients, he (as he explains to new his "lobby boy" in training ... Zero Mustava as very young man) anticipated his clients' wishes EVEN BEFORE THEY WERE ABLE TO ARTICULATE THEM.  Hence the Grand Budapest Hotel, though nestled in the mountains, ran like the smoothest of ships where EVERYTHING RAN PERFECTLY and absolutely EVERYONE from the richest, most pedigreed of clients _to the lowest of the staff_ was happy and indeed PROUD to be there. 

Well, to make so many people, especially the clients so happy, M. Gustave had to schmooze the ladies, especially the older ladies, which it turns out, he did quite gladly, and from which the rest of the story unspools:

One of the rich old ladies, a certain Madame D. (played by a remarkably "age-ified" Tilda Swinton) who he had been schmoozing and, it turns out, sleeping with -- "But she was 84!" exclaims the young, neophyte "lobby boy" Zero.  "Oh, I've had older," responds the nonchalant, this is the way the world works M. Gustave -- dies and leaves him an odd but surprisingly valuable painting ("Boy with Apple") in her Will.

Well, Mde D.'s oldest son and principal heir Dimitri (played by Adrien Brody) is not amused and the rest of the story involving still 30s-era police inspectors (one played here by Jeff Goldbloom), private eyes (one played here by William DeFoe), other grand concierges from other Grand Hotels (one played here by Bill Murray) plays out.  There's even a young "humble but pure" love interest for the young "lobby boy" Zero named Agatha (played by Saouirse Ronan).  With this set of characters and others, both large and small, much indeed can / does happen.

It all makes for a grand and worthy-to-tell tale.  I just wish that they got that little (if IMHO significant to KEY) above mentioned point of history right.  Otherwise, we really _can't_ understand _why_ places like these did "decline."

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