April 11 — May 01
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Three Week Showing)
|Sat & Sun||2:00||5:00||7:15|
Unless otherwise noted, films begin on Friday and run through the next Thursday.
In the best work of director Wes Anderson, there’s a strange disconnect between the overt stylization and a genuine sincerity that moviegoers somehow perceive through several layers of artifice. That artificial quality comes across in the deliberately mannered performances, which aren’t exactly affectless but often seem more deadpan than the situation seems to call for; as well as the quirky, laconic dialogue, and humor so dry that we’re not always sure if we’re meant to chuckle. The visual look is slightly “off,” full of sets with too-perfect décor, too tidy and designed-to-be-presentable, like brand-new showroom furniture displays. Anderson’s narratives and situations share some of that same story-book feel, like meticulously detailed re-enactments of tales overheard but not fully understood. Anderson’s style is among the most recognizable (and fun to parody) in modern cinema. But what keeps his oeuvre from becoming too bizarre and unapproachable is that sincerity—that glimpse of real emotion that viewers see through the style. Many filmmakers use style to enhance (or fake) emotion, but Anderson’s style, though strange, is actually tied to his compassion, his feeling for people. The artifice represents how human beings try to polish their outer surfaces, gloss over their weaknesses, playing cool and nonchalant, even when openness would liberate them. Anderson characters don’t just hide their emotions; they prettify and neuter them. The result is not “realistic”—it’s the major source of Anderson’s humor, this blithe unconcern with what most of us consider realistic—but the artifice gradually achieves its own poignancy. Scene by scene, Anderson may not strike fans as an artist with “heart,” yet when his films are over, we realize he cares more for his characters than most filmmakers. He was the director who first noticed the sadness and self-loathing beneath Bill Murray’s cocky persona; and in films like Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson has let Murray and other performers show facets of themselves—serious or silly—that they’ve rarely had opportunities to display. Though known for artifice and style, Anderson seems to get actors to reveal more of themselves than they ever have before. The Grand Budapest Hotel is quintessential Wes Anderson, with the same masterfully precise and pleasurable friction between “fake” and “sincere.” The story’s setting—a mountaintop lodge in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka—immediately establishes the fairy-tale tone of the film; it’s a challenge Anderson has given himself to create the right balance between whimsy and adult emotions (the transition from adolescence to maturity is a favorite Anderson theme; he’d be the perfect choice to adapt J.D. Salinger to the silver screen). As critic Josh Slater-Williams in Sound on Sight astutely observed, the fantasy setting makes explicit Wes Anderson’s debt to director Ernst Lubitsch, whose classic comedy-dramas of the 1930’s and ‘40’s (Trouble in Paradise, The Shop Around the Corner, To Be or Not to Be, The Merry Widow) inspired the phrase, “the Lubitsch touch.” Anderson has a “touch” of his own, and it’s on full display here: there are allusions to novelist Stefan Zweig, director Max Ophüls, German Expressionist film, comic book hero Tintin, and a wealth of European artists—but there’s nothing ponderous or pretentious about the film’s homage. Viewers needn’t catch all the allusions; more important is the sense that The Grand Budapest Hotel is a Neverland of the imagination, a museum for a European past that never really existed. The frame story sets us straight on that: a famous author (never named) tells how he visited the hotel as a young man (Jude Law) in 1968, when the owner, Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), tells him how he came to the hotel in 1932, when it was ruled by concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). The majority of the film details the relationship between bellboy Zero (Tony Revolori) and Gustave, but the story-within-a-story-within-a-story structure playfully tweaks the unreality of the concoction. Which makes the growing bond between Zero and Gustave, and Zero’s love for the beautiful Agatha (Saoirse Ronan), surprisingly touching, without being sickly sweet. There’s also a more farcical plot as Gustave tries to hide a valuable painting willed to him by a deceased guest (whom he’s suspected of murdering), while sidestepping the woman’s angry son (Adrien Brody) and clearing himself of the crime. And of course, the specter of world war looms large, threatening to destroy the lush, decadent way of life for the wandering romantics who populate this scenic refuge. There are plenty of other episodes and incidents that make this one of Anderson’s most dynamic films, with plenty of action (there’s even a shootout) and amusing guest stars like Harvey Keitel and Willem Dafoe popping up. The terrific cast includes long-time Anderson confreres Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman, but the director always seems to get eye-opening work from someone new: here, it’s Ralph Fiennes as Gustave, the suave, sophisticated taskmaster with a sentimental, poetry-loving soul. Fiennes, who’s clearly having a ball, is a delight. But this is Anderson’s labor of love—The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of his most elaborate, dollhouse-like sets, filmed as lovingly as a child peeking into his Christmas stocking—and the film is also, as Total Film critic Emma Morgan notes, Anderson’s “most adventurous.” For fans of Anderson and those intrigued by his cult following, The Grand Budapest Hotel is pure movie magic, a film of ethereal beauty, gentle laughter, great wit, and above all, a generous heart.
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Seniors/Students with valid ID: $7
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