Unfortunately I was unable to attend this weeks Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre Film Club screening as I was attending a concert performed by the Dutch-Belgian band Gare du Nord at the De La Mar Theatre, but I did manage to get to the RBC on Thursday evening to see the screening of Wes Andersons latest comedy drama The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014).
The Film Club’s host for Monday evening was Pat Pickering who was kind enough to e-mail me her presentation that began with a short introduction on the director who not only produced the film but also co-wrote the story and wrote the screenplay. Anderson admits that the story was partially inspired by two books written by the Austrian author Stefan Zweig’s , namely Beware of Pity (1939) and The Post Office Girl published posthumously in 1982. The Houston Texas born film director is known for his distinctive visual and narrative style with a meticulous attention to detail and as Pat pointed out is considered one of modern films most original directors. His body of work, eight feature films to date, have included The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), The Darjeeling Limited (2007) and his best received to date Moonrise Kingdom (2012) all of which have quirky formats and include flawed but uniquely detailed characters often with a father figure in some guise. Pat’s introduction goes on to say that his main cinematic influences have been Francois Truffaut, Louis Malle, John Huston, Stanley Kubrick and Roman Polanski. But Anderson also admits a massive influence on his life was when his parents divorced when he was only eight years old, an event he describes as the most crucial of his and his brothers' early years. It was during childhood that he began writing plays and making super-8 films.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is a German/UK co-production filmed on location in Germany in Gorlitz and other part’s of Saxony as well as Babelsberg Film Studio’s where between 1933 and 1945 1000’s of feature films were made including hundreds of films under the direction of Hitler’s propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels one of which was Triumph of the Will (1935) directed by the innovative German director Leni Riefenstahl which proved to be a prime example of propaganda in film history.
Anderson’s latest film is set between the two World Wars in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka an ‘eastern European alpine state’ and recounts the rather risqué exploits of the grand hotels concierge Monsieur Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes) and his young protégé, lobby boy Zero Moustafa (played by relative newcomer Tony Revolori). Anderson cleverly tells the story as ‘a narrative within a reminiscence within a novel’ or in plain English the film opens in the present day and we find a young girl sitting in front of a monument to a writer known only as “The Author” reading a chapter in his book about a trip he made to the Grand Budapest Hotel in 1968. It was there that The Author (played by Jude Law as a young man and Tom Wilkinson as the older version) meets the present owner of the hotel (F. Murray Abraham), which is no longer quite so grand as it once was, who relates the story of how the hotel came into his possession. A story that includes various colourful characters like Madame D (on leaving the picture house I was asked by another member of the audience if knew which character Tilda Swinton played?) who, although very much older, shares a deeply sexual bond with Gustave. And it is Madame D’s death that allows us to meet her son, Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and his very scary henchman (played by the formidable Willem Defoe). Lots of other characters appear but the list is too long to mention in this blog but include some recurring collaborators like Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Edward Norton along with other performers including Lea Seydoux, Mathieu Amalric, Harvey Keitel and Saoirse Ronan who all appear in scene steeling roles.
A truly humorous piece of work with a stellar cast that does the ingenious screenplay proud, especially Fiennes who is in magnificent form as the concierge but the real star is the Grand Budapest Hotel described by Peter Bradshaw as a ‘superb cathedral of eccentricity’ The film portrays a wonderfully illusionary world but one that could so easily have existed in a eastern European alpine state between the wars? Anderson’s direction goes from strength to strength and I for one can’t wait for his next project.