After learning Gustave is concierge at the Grand Budapest Hotel, an officer in the revolutionary army stops his men beating Gustave and Zero, the hotel's lobby boy, because he remembers Gustave from when he visited the hotel as a young boy. He's mortified his men have treated Gustave this way and after the men have left Gustave starts explaining to his protégé that there is civility in the world before breaking off and saying, "Fuck it." But it's precisely because Gustave so thoroughly embodies this civility that he can't even see it objectively anymore--and what a perfect subject for Wes Anderson, who directed the beautiful film of The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Ralph Fiennes, who plays Gustave, bears some resemblance to John Barrymore and Gustave has a fundamentally noble nature and he steals something but otherwise there's less in common between this film and 1932's Grand Hotel than you might think. Though Grand Hotel was shot in 4:3 aspect ratio and so was most of The Grand Budapest Hotel--the square shape which all movies were shot in before the mid-1950s and all television was shot in before the early 2000s.
The recent anime series Kill la Kill did the same thing for flashback sequences and it's a little strange to me that this has already become a communicative artistic choice. In the case of Wes Anderson's film, it's to emphasise the artificial nature of the film, of film, which is certainly quite typical of him. But he doesn't emphasise artifice purely for the sake of emphasising artifice--he shows how beautiful carefully arranged artifice can be which, of course, precisely describes the value of Gustave as a character.
The plot of the film concerns Gustave being wrongly implicated in a murder and involves imprisonment and chases and other fun things but the point is always Gustave, who will interrupt someone reciting a poem when police sirens sound but only while assuring the speaker that the interruption is to avoid imminent capture.
This is one of my favourite Ralph Fiennes performances--this and Cronenberg's Spider make Fiennes a brilliant actor in my mind. Two entirely different roles but in both cases Fiennes succeeds in the task of bringing a sense of natural human reactions through abnormal or extraordinary mannerisms.
Rather than Grand Hotel, the movie I most thought of was The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp--which came to mind when a character in The Grand Budapest Hotel mentioned that war "started at midnight", a line familiar to anyone who's seen The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp but I think it was more likely a coincidence than an intentional reference. But bringing it to mind helped crystallise my thought on the newer film--like Clive Wynne-Candy in the Powell and Pressburger movie, Gustave represents an older tradition of civility that may not be at harmony with reality and yet that is partly what is so marvellous about it. The visual beauty of the Wes Anderson film recalls the lavish old colour cinematography, too. Particularly gorgeous are the intense pink, gold, and red shots of the hotel interior, apparently shot partly in a German department store that survived World War II.
I went to see the movie at a theatre I'd never been to before, a tiny place a couple blocks away from San Diego's own legendary Hotel del Coronado. But it was an appropriate venue for more than just that--the building houses only three theatres and the one I was in had only four rows--I'm glad I got there early because only the middle seats would give what I consider to be an acceptable vantage point from which to view a film. There's a gorgeous blue velvet curtain, though, that parts to reveal the screen and a pretty little proscenium--the lighting on it being somewhat less garish than it looks in my photograph.
Twitter Sonnet #616: Rashomon edition
A linen noble wanders lost through ash.
Rain scratches the grey temple gate to white.
The dizzy killer stumbles through wet grass.
False eyebrows are smudged blurring the sight.
The speckled hall of light coalesces.
Drops tracing stone cheeks darken as they fall.
A slighted ghost at dusk convalesces.
Words replacing tones clear numbers on the wall.
Slim bladed hatchets make the bald man's way.
Sobs echo on the polished white gravel.
Hard banded sandals break and shred to hay.
Leaves shiver and wind inhibits light travel.
The Chinese sword reflects all four faces.
The murder is never through same paces.