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Friday, March 7th, 2014

Critics Rave Over Wes Anderson's Russian Nesting Doll 'The Grand Budapest Hotel'

Wes Anderson's newest feature film The Grand Budapest Hotel hits theaters today, and it's already drawing generally warm reviews from critics. It currently scores 89% on Rotten Tomatoes and 86 on Metacritic, and a few reviewers have even credited it as the first Anderson work to convert them into true fans. As is the case with most Anderson films, comedy plays a multi-faceted role in Budapest; The Daily Beast described it matter-of-factly as a "screwball comedy," whereas The New York Times delved a little deeper by praising the film's way of conjuring the "highly refined sense of nuances that separate comedy from tragedy." Across the board, critics are unsurprisingly enchanted by the film's signature style, layered storytelling (many reviews borrow the Russian nesting doll metaphor), intricate sets and cinematography, and unique take on nostalgia, lost time, and wartime memories of the near-distant past in the made-up setting of the Republic of Zubrowka. Here's a closer look at what some critics have said about the film:

On how Budapest feels different than past Anderson films:

The Grand Budapest Hotel is still every inch a Wes Anderson film, but a new breed of one, since Anderson, for the first time, is out to enchant us without "saying" anything. For me that lets him say more. (Entertainment Weekly)

Grand Budapest is Anderson's most mature film, and his most visually witty, too. It's playful without being self-congratulatory, and somehow lush without being cloying in spite of its obsession with a bakery that cranks out only one pastry: a snowman-shaped confection with layers of pink, green, and cream. (Village Voice)

On Budapest's take on storytelling:

The Grand Budapest Hotel tells us storytellers are bombarded with stories that aren’t their own, but that a storyteller makes them their own. For example, when you become a filmmaker, you see more films, which means those films influence you; soon you aren’t the filmmaker you were to begin with. Through what is essentially an action-packed Hollywood caper, Anderson leads us into an extremely interesting rabbit hole of discussion. He delightfully toys with standard elements of the caper picture in a hilarious, fast paced romp around war-time Europe. (Slashfilm)

Every nook and cranny of the movie feels meticulously considered, from the rapid-fire banter reminiscent of Hollywood's Golden Age comedies, to the luscious sets, and thoughtful character moments. The plot raced by with the speed of a downhill skier. I was never lost, but nearly breathless at all the details rushing by. It made me crave seeing the movie again, instantly. (Cinema Blend)

On pacing:

The pace is slowed slightly by Anderson’s stuttered timing—a skipped beat, a moment of incomprehension—which gives the joking an air of deranged absent-mindedness. (The New Yorker)

The shame is that it’s in the nature of being told a story to care more about the end than the beginning, as it’s the part you’re left with and the part that dictates the mood in which you’re sent out into the cold. So the slackening of the pace from the third quarter onward is an issue; a slow climb down from a giddy high to, not quite a crash, but certainly the beginning of the end of the sugar rush. (Indiewire)

On Ralph Fiennes's performance as Gustave H:

Also elevating "Grand Budapest" is the transformative work of Fiennes as the film's protagonist, Gustave H, the concierge's concierge. Anderson has worked with fine actors before, but he's frankly never had someone so capable of giving his will-o'-the-wisp world heft and reality while still being faithful to the singular spirit that underlies it.(LA Times)

But in terms of performance, The Grand Budapest Hotel belongs to Ralph Fiennes, who is note-perfect as the heavily perfumed Gustave, infusing the character with charm, humour and pathos. Indeed, the film’s best moments are those shared between his character and Zero as their working relationship turns into a friendship before developing into something quite touching and profound. (IGN)

On decoding the underlying message of the film:

Youth, age, rivalry, and mentorship? Nostalgia for a lost way of life? The ineluctable slaughterhouse of 20th-century European history? These are big, dark themes, ideas that the director (who also wrote the screenplay, with a story assist from his friend Hugo Guinness) seems both obsessed by and game to explore. But somehow Anderson never quite lets himself (or his characters, or by extension, us) get to the deepest, darkest places those paths might lead. (Slate)

On the world of The Grand Budapest Hotel:

As ever, Anderson's world is created like the most magnificent full-scale doll's house; his incredible locations, interiors and old-fashioned matte-painting backdrops sometimes give the film a look of a magic-lantern display or an illustrated plate from a book. He and the cinematographer Robert D Yeoman contrive the characteristic rectilinear camera movements and tableaux photographed head-on. The film has been compared to Hitchcock and Lubitsch; I kept thinking of Peter Greenaway. It makes the audience feel like giants bending down to admire a superbly detailed little universe: I can't think of any film-maker who brings such overwhelming control to his films. (The Guardian)

On the end of the film:

It seduces you even as Anderson hints at the deadliness lurking in this high society’s margins. It leaves you undefended for the final emotional wallop. There were a mere 15 years between the gruesome, senseless slaughter of World War I and the Reichstag fire that presaged the devastation of Europe by Fascists, and this magical wisp of an era would pass. The final scenes are handled with delicacy: You don’t cry so much as shiver. And then you slowly begin the readjustment to a world in which the people are less exuberant, the proportions less harmonious, the colors less vivid. (New York magazine)

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