Category Archives: Review

The Grand Budapest Hotel: A Review

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.

Grand Budapest Hotel   

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

“Boy with Apple”

Photo © with the makers.

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Lucy: A Review

lucy-movie

A still from Lucy

Luc Besson’s Lucy has Scarlett Johansson playing the title role of Lucy, a young woman who unwittingly gets involved in a drug deal gone wrong and its consequences thereafter. Besson is known for creating some strong female action heroes from La Femme Nikita to The Fifth Element and Lucy follows along the same line. The movie develops its narrative from the fascinating  premise that human beings use only 10% of their brain’s capacity and  through an accident Johansson finds herself on the path to using a 100% percent but with only twenty hours hours to live. In fact, as she gains more knowledge about humanity she finds herself becoming increasingly less ‘human’ and views human beings as cogs in a  vast machine, denuding them of any individuality in the process. Icarian in how the quest for knowledge brings with it annihilation of the self. As she raises a toast to herself, she says, “to knowledge!” Morgan Freeman as the Professor and Neuroscientist whom Lucy seeks out in order to utilize her superhuman potential has little to do apart from exposition of the scientific theories which Lucy experiences in person. Of course, one would have preferred if Besson followed the policy of show rather than tell in these sections. Johansson’s transition from a rebellious, confused college goer in search of her identity to someone who is in possession of knowledge in every form possible is intriguing if a little flat.

Lucy is visually stunning if a little unsubtle, it creates a jarring effect which often leaves the audience disconcerted. Scientifically, it has been accused of misinterpreting facts and preexisting knowledge to serve its purpose. Yet, for Hollywood to build a story on a scientific premise (even if faulty) and with only a female hero to carry it ahead is no mean feat. If the title seems like there was no thought put into it that’s not true either. Besson draws the trajectory of woman’s history from the first woman or rather a fossilized skeleton of a woman found over three million years ago who was named Lucy (or even Lucy Stone for that matter) to his superhuman Lucy. For Besson, Lucy’s story is a microcosmic version of what has been happening in evolutionary biology over centuries and how philosophy and science deal with it (in fast forward motion). As a story that mixes philosophy with science it will interest a certain section of the audience and the action part will entice the others.