I discovered the quirky funny film The Grand Budapest Hotel, this week on pay-per-view. This one was nominated for several Oscars for 2013.
With a stellar cast of notable actors, not always recognizable in their roles, it is a funny, gentle farce. It reminds me of classic film comedies of the 1930s in the look of the film, with just a touch of contemporary cynicism.
Told as a flashback by the older Mister Zero, played by F. Murray Abraham, it is the story of Monsieur Gustav, the legendary concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel. Ralph Fiennes does a wonderful job as the self-important yet compassionate M. Gustav. The role is a complete turnaround from Voldemort, but just as well done. He's a bit snarky, but you'll like him anyway.
He has a penchant for the ladies - the older and richer the better. After the death of his most recent love, he has a private conversation with his lobby boy Zero. Gustav says to Zero - "She was wonderful in the sack." Zero replies, "but she was 83!" Gustav shrugs and says, "I've had older..."
The lovely Saorise Ronan, nominated for an Oscar for her role in "Atonement" at the age of 12, plays Agatha, a baker of heavenly cakes, with a birthmark in the shape of Mexico on her face, and an Irish lilt to her voice. Told you it was quirky. Ms. Ronan shines in the role, making you wish she had a bigger part.
None of the roles in this gem are huge. Many notables have small roles, little better than cameos in some cases, but unique little bits that will leave you smiling and shaking your head.
Adrien Brody makes a credible, comic book style villain. Willem Dafoe is barely recognizable as his henchman. I was so unsure it was him, I had to clean my eyeglasses and look again.
Jeff Goldblum, one of my favorite actors, was evident in his role only by his voice. I wasn't sure it was him until he spoke. Bill Murray is a dour, SNL style concierge at another regal hotel who steps in to assist Gustav and Zero. Edward Norton plays the constable who chases Gustav and Zero but ultimately bags the real culprit.
The talented Tilda Swinton plays Madame D, Gustav's doomed love interest.
Newcomer Tony Revolori plays the young Zero with a nearly constant facial expression reminiscent of an exhausted basset hound, and incredible comic timing.
Although a flashback, this is really an ongoing chase movie. Some of the action sequences are fast-moving choreography which will make you giggle. Look for the switching of cable cars way up in the mountains. Everything is performed with snapped perfection of comic timing and droll self-awareness. During a fast-paced escape on a motorcycle through an icy landscape, I could just imagine the studio staff just off camera blowing artificial snow in the faces of the actors.
In the memoir sequences which comprise most of the film, the characters frequently speak directly to the camera. How often do we see that technique? Never, at least not to this degree.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is truly unique. The sets, the costumes, the make-up, the hairstyles, the props, all are stylized to a dusty bygone era, but add to the richness of the production.
Filled with intentional irony, the war depicted in this film is loosely based on World War I, but comes off looking like a Sigmund Romberg operetta rather than actual combat. That is in keeping with the tone of the entire film. Nothing is taken seriously, not the death of Gustav's elderly lover, nor the aftermath of her will. It is all played for laughs, with a wink to the camera, and the carefully choreographed pandemonium of old silent films.
This film is charming. It's a light-hearted froth with a few surprisingly serious moments. For me, it's well worth a second look. You cannot capture everything in just one viewing.
And if you don't know Sigmund Romberg or his work, that's okay. Honestly, his work is rarely performed, if ever, these days. He belongs to a bygone era. You can see some of his operettas transformed into Hollywood musicals of the late 1940s - through the 1950s. The studios had stars like Howard Keel, Gordon MacRae, Ann Blythe, Mario Lanza, and Katherine Grayson with classical voices. MGM and others made big colorful movies to showcase the classical talents.
Sorry, but the old film historian comes out in me from time to time...
At any rate, The Grand Budapest is a lovely jewel of a film in all aspects of production. It will make you laugh and take you away from your daily life...a good thing for some of us, indeed.
See this one, you'll like it. You'll smile while viewing the film and while thinking about it afterward.
'til next time...