Rudeness is merely the expression of fear. People fear they won’t get what they want. The most dreadful and unattractive person only needs to be loved, and they will open up like a flower.— Gustave H.
Official Poster for The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel is visually a delight to watch. Set in a fictional town in Europe in between the wars, it traces the way the war impacts the personal lives of people totally uninvolved in it changing it forever in the process. Ralph Fiennes as Monsieur Gustave H, the legendary concierge of the famous Grand Budapest Hotel and Tony Revolori as Zero Moustafa, the immigrant lobby boy, make the perfect team for a series of improbable adventures out of which emerges an enduring friendship.
The bubble gum pink Grand Budapest Hotel, which looks like a doll’s house with its extravagant exteriors and immaculate interiors and caters to the filthy rich, gives the sense of a self sufficient and enclosed world but it cannot escape the war anymore than Europe could at the turn of the century. Anderson’s fictional Zubrowka, with snow covered Alpine peaks, is very much based on Hungary, a country which often found itself on the wrong side of history. The ‘Budapest’ of the title gives it away and deliberately so. It captures a world that is fast disappearing in the wake of the changing social, historical and economic realities in the twentieth century, the wars being one of its manifestations.
The old world charm and the values that the Hotel stands for and Gustave holds close to his heart and passes on to Moustafa have a painting like effect, depicting a moment in time which is lost even as it is being captured. Much like the Renaissance painting, “Boy with Apple” which disappears even as it is lurking in the background. Interestingly, Anderson uses a faux masterpiece created by a twenty first century artist Michael Taylor in the Renaissance style who claims he doesn’t know where the original “Boy with Apple” is anymore rather than a historical artwork for his purpose. In effect, creating another fiction within the fictional world of the hotel.
The humor in The Grand Budapest Hotel is often generated from silly situations which are elevated to the point that they become mock epic, a trait that satire lays claim to. In the process, depicting how human greed (for money, for power etc) can reach absurd levels. If in the fictional world Dmitry’s, the son of the rich widow, Madame D’s action in sending a henchman after Gustave after he steals the painting although he is in possession of the rest of the estate or Gustave’s in stealing the painting rather than taking legal recourse to acquire what was willed to him come across as ridiculous, it is only a microcosm of the absurdity in the world outside where Nazi Germany is invading countries and exterminating races just to prove a point while the world watches on. It is not surprising then that the murder of Madame D is never really solved even though it is of significant importance for the plot. Demanding or expecting poetic justice in a world where the very meaning of humanity is in question is as incongruous as the romantic poetry that intersperses Gustave’s narration, which no one understands or cares for anymore. it is only a matter of time before the doll’s house crumbles and Gustave never really survives the war even though Moustafa’s narration refuses to enter that zone, where his mentor and friend no longer exists, even in memory.
Fiennes’ Gustave is generous and selfish, caring and flippant by turns, has no compunctions about sleeping with octogenarians for profit but he also respects their last wishes, he might be ready to steal and run away with a priceless work of art or break out of prison but he will also put himself on the line to save his bellboy from SS (never named) officers and all these contradictions are brought out beautifully within the narrative. It traces Moustafa’s growth equally well from the loyal, if not very capable, bellboy to the owner of the hotel, capable of love and loyalty even in a world where such values are becoming outdated. If the Grand Budapest Hotel, despite the disappearance of its earlier grandeur and beauty, still stands in the 1960s It is because people like Moustafa do not let go off the vestiges of a the world gone by and live in the past, revelling in nostalgia, but for how long is the question.
The Grand Budapest Hotel has numerous layers of narration. The first level has the writer who wants to write down a story in 1985 which he heard in the 1960s from the then owner Moustafa who recounts the story of The Grand Budapest Hotel, Gustave and Moustafa himself in the 1930s. The story begins even earlier (or rather later) with a young girl who goes to a cemetery to pay her respects to the writer and holds a book titled The Grand Budapest Hotel. Framing all these narratives within his story is Anderson himself as the Writer and Director of the movie. These layers tell as much as they hide, they are only versions of a (fictional) history and each one is as real as its author wants it to be or as its reader would like to believe, much like the chase scenes: leaping from one peak to another or walking in between cable cars within the movie.
“Boy with Apple”
Photo © with the makers.