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Grand Budapest Hotel (The Criterion Collection), The
I'm not entirely sure what point I drifted away from, then came back to, the films of the Wes Anderson oeuvre, but I think I've identified with some of the melancholy that comes with the oodles of nostalgia that he puts into every frame. And I think with The Grand Budapest hotel he managed to accomplish this one more time.
Anderson wrote the screenplay, which was inspired by the writings of 20th century writer Stefan Zweig. The film starts in 1968 as someone, presumably the writer in a younger version of himself (Jude Law, Captain Marvel), and his stay at the Grand Budapest Hotel. He encounters an older gentleman named Mr. Moustapha (F. Murray Abraham, Inside Llewyn Davis), who has a story to tell about the hotel and its meaning to him, but wishes to tell it over dinner. We then go back thirty years to when he was a bellhop named Zero (Tony Revolori, Dope). Zero works for Gustave (Ralph Fiennes, Spectre), who is the concierge for the hotel and holds power and trust of many. When an older woman named Madame D (Tilda Swinton, Doctor Strange dies, she leaves him a prized possession that her family and brother Dmitri (Adrien Brody, The Village) want back, and will do whatever they can to get it back.
Like a lot of Anderson movies, there are like eight or ten other actors who you would know from their work, and at least three quarters of them have appeared in multiple Anderson films for one reason or another. But at the film's heart is the story that Moustapha tells. His is one of revelance and adoration for Gustave, and as the engine for the film Fiennes hits the balance of tact, comedy and heart in a performance that I personally have not seen from him before. For all of the adulation the film earned during its theatrical run, seeing Fiennes miss out on a trophy or two was disappointing.
Gustave serves as a perfect symbol of a time before Nazi occupations, where things were more elegant and kind, and it's that connection that Moustapha remembers so fondly, and even after the value of the Grand Budapest has been transferred to him, he holds onto it and things have definitely changed through the years to the hotel, but it's the meaning of the hotel that almost forces him to keep it. Fiennes got the singular glory (as much as he could I suppose), but Abraham's performance is almost as important to how much you buy into the Grand Budapest.
It is not the best Wes Anderson film, some people may not put it in the top half of his work, but he manages to communicate towards emotion in a way that is sweet and touching, and still manages to do this as he gets into double digits into the number of films directed. The armloads of cameos or the lurching towards expositional eccentricity aside, Anderson still has a knack for getting to the feelings of its protagonist one way or another.
With Anderson's supervision, Criterion created a 2K transfer from the film source, and whether it's 1.37:1, 1:85:1 or 2:40:1, the image looks great throughout. The brighter colors of pink and blue look vivid and give way to the reds, browns and greens of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s of the time nicely. There is more depth and detail in this presentation than when I was watching it recently (digital only) which I enjoyed in the hotel and prison sequences, and came away impressed.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track handles the soundtrack without concern. Dialogue echoes in the bathhouses, gunfire rings out over the balconies of the hotel, and dialogue is consistent and no drop offs to speak of. You don't get any familiar songs during the film, but Alexandre Desplat's score is well-balanced through the film. Superb work from Criterion.
Criterion does as Criterion does when it comes to releases such as this; they take the extras from the Fox release and build on those as only they can. A commentary with Anderson, frequent co-writer and producer Roman Coppola (who was the special photography director for Budapest, critic Kent Jones and Jeff Goldblum (who plays Deputy Kovacs, Madame D's executor of his will) is the starter for this, as the track gets into inspirations for the location, breakdown of various scenes and shots, and Goldblum's recollections of the film as it wa one of the first times he was seeing it. Casting ideas are recounted, as was the preproduction and production approach for the film, and Anderson serving as the guard for facial hair amongst the cast. It's a friendly track but doesn't dive too deep into anecdotal things.
From there, six storyboard animatics (25:42) include narration, and "The Making of The Grand Budapest Hotel" (21:28) includes some interviews but mostly serves as a fly on the wall for things that occurred during filming, and some more thoughts from Goldblum, this time on set. "Visiting The Grand Budapest Hotel" is a three-part look at the film; "Design/Special Effects" (25:21) hits on visual effects and how that team works with Anderson, and how they were done here, and on props and prop designs. "Music" (5:24) gives you the recording sessions you're looking for, and "Miniatures" (2:10) examines the use of those in the film. There are two critical video essays: "Wes Anderson takes on the 4:3 Challenge" (23:23) discusses the impacts of approaching the aspect ratio, why it would be difficult to take on given Anderson's image choices to this point in his career, and using examples to show how difficult it would be. The pros and cons are touched on as well as color palette choices, and the segment (from scholar David Bordwell) is worth your time. As is "The Grand Budapest Hotel" (16:08) from Matt Zoller Seitz, who has written about Anderson's film choices in several books, including one for this film. The commonalities are covered as are the differences in characters, and how Zweig figured into this particular film. Ten featurettes are next: "The Story" (4:36), "The Society of Crossed Keys" (4:02), "Creating the Hotel" (4:28), "Creating the World" (4:57), "Wes Anderson" (3:49), "The Cast" (3:22), "Bill Murray Tours the Town" (4:16), "Kuntsmuseum Zubrowka Lecture" (2:52) and "Cpurtesans Au Chocolat" (3:21) hit little bits of the production. There's also the trailer (2:26), a 35-page booklet of various notes and appreciation, and some smaller notes and artwork for the film.
The Grand Budapest Hotel brings you into the world of Gustave, Moustapha and Wes Anderson with an engaging story to tell and executed to high degree by its actors. That the ensemble is able to help it along while getting their own moments in a Wes Anderson movie is a compliment to the stories that are told. Technically I would have to give it a higher note than the first release, and as far as the supplements go, Criterion has put in a good amount of work for this title, as they do with most Anderson work. If you like Wes you will (and should) double-dip, and if you have not seen this one yet, well, you're not going anywhere any time soon, so get on it!