The Grand Budapest Hotel — review

Winner:
British Academy Film Award for Best Original Screenplay
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards for Best Screenplay
Florida Film Critics Circle Awards for Best Original Screenplay
Indiana Film Journalists Association Awards for Best Original Screenplay
London Film Critics' Circle Awards for Screenwriter of the Year
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards for Best Screenplay
National Society of Film Critics Awards for Best Screenplay
New York Film Critics Circle Awards for Best Screenplay
Oklahoma Film Critics Circle awards for Best Original Screenplay
Online Film Critics Society Awards for Best Original Screenplay
Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards for Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards for Best Original Screenplay
Toronto Film Critics Association Awards for Best Screenplay
Vancouver Film Critics Circle Awards for Best Screenplay
Writers Guild of America Awards for Best Original Screenplay

Screenplay by Wes Anderson.

To the general public, The Grand Budapest Hotel appeals to the Oscars because it changes its aspect ratio, and they love that sort of thing. What a lot of people simply aren’t aware of is that it doesn’t just change its aspect ratio to be arty, but switches between three to indicate the point in time of the story: 1.33:1 for 1932, 2.3:1 for 1968 and 1.85:1 for 1985 onwards. Now I’m a screenwriter, not a cinematographer, so I had to research what those different aspect ratios are, but because they’re relevant. The narrative’s structured around the book The Grand Budapest Hotel, published in 1985, with the scenes in 1968 being the writer’s experiences it recounts, and 1932 is the story he’s told. A story within a story within the story. And all indicated through altering aspect ratios. Motion pictures should tell stories visually, and a complicated structure like this could become confusing for the audience. But by employing that kind of cinematography, the layers of it are shown. You always know where you are, and you’re never lost in the story. The smaller the picture, the further into the layers you’ve gone. It’s a complicated undertaking for Anderson, but such a simple change like that keeps it coherent and smooth-running.

Which is strange, because none of that is described in the screenplay. All Anderson does is dictate the time period of that scene, so I can only assume the idea to aspect ratio was either already present, given he also directed, or came later.

But the best part is that The Grand Budapest Hotel doesn’t need this. The story would still be coherent if the 1.85:1 aspect ratio remained the same throughout, because the production design also indicates time period. The fact that it’s there isn’t a gimmick, though, as it does serve a purpose, and enhances what you’re watching because it all looks very contemporary. My point is that had a different director not done so, it would have still been entertaining to watch.

Because the dialogue is all very anachronistic. Words like “piss”, “fag” and “cunt” are used in 1932 as if it’s 2014, and it creates a disconnect from the setting. It’s like watching a parody of something else, where the screenplay and the actors are self-aware of the fact that it’s all pretend, and use modern terms as a wink to the knowing audience. That, and the way the story’s divided into acts: the prologue, M. Gustave, Madame C.D.V.u.T.Check-point 19 Criminal Internment CampThe Society of the Crossed KeysThe Second Copy of the Second Will and the epilogue. What we get is an anthologised serial bookended by the framing device of flashbacks, signalled by changing aspect ratios. It’s like a picture within a picture within a picture. Three, small frames collected together. But each with their own story happening – independent of each other, but still connected, with knowing, parodical dialogue that only Anderson could write. Of course, Ralph Fiennes made it work, but it was on Anderson’s dialogue. All of his characters are quirky, but H. is also one of the sickest. The Grand Budapest Hotel isn’t a comedy, but it has elements of comedy, because of the dark dialogue. H. just doesn’t care about the things that come out of his mouth, and yet everything he says is hilarious. Partially because the people receiving it honestly deserve it, but also because he’s entitled to that painting while also trying to run a hotel, and everyone keeps bothering him. And in his quest to retrieve the painting, and the farce that unfolds as he does so, gives it an air of old cinema, along the lines of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, the Three Stooges, the Marx Brothers or Laurel and Hardy. But it’s made in the modern day, so it’s able to take more liberties with social representations and word choice. And Anderson played-off this to give us a delightful mix of old and new.

The Grand Budapest Hotel — surrealist tribute to old cinema 7/10.

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Author: alexsigsworth

Basically... run.

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