Thursday, January 22, 2015

Throwback Thursday: The Grand Budapest Hotel

I'm also a fan of that Don Cheadle movie Hote Rwanda.

Every Throwback Thursday, I randomly pull out from my desk cabinet--with my eyes closed--a movie ticket I saved. Then I discuss the movie on the ticket and maybe a little bit of its score, which might be now streaming on AFOS.

Alexandre Desplat's original score from Wes Anderson's farcical murder mystery The Grand Budapest Hotel is currently up for a Best Original Score Oscar, one of nine mostly technical Oscar nods The Grand Budapest Hotel has received (the most Oscar nominations ever for an Anderson film). Of the five films that are nominated for 2014's Best Original Score, The Grand Budapest Hotel is the only film I've seen, and Desplat's score is the only nominated score I've heard from start to finish, so even though I don't care for the Oscars for certain reasons and have avoided watching the tedious-ass telecast for years, I'd be glad if Desplat wins for that score (he's also nominated for his score to The Imitation Game).

That is a fucking delicious-looking birthday cake.

Desplat's Grand Budapest Hotel score immediately won me over with its jazzy brushed snares during cues like "Mr. Moustafa," "The New Lobby Boy," "Daylight Express to Lutz" and "Canto at Gabelmeister's Peak." The score inventively establishes the milieu of a European country that never existed (the film's primary setting is the fictional country of Zubrowka) by mixing and matching Russian balalaika, Hungarian cimbalom, Alpine horns and various other European elements, just as The Grand Budapest Hotel itself inventively realizes a '30s Europe that never existed (Anderson renamed the Nazis the Zig-Zag party and gave them a different-looking insignia) and is partially inspired by what Jonathan Romney referred to in Film Comment as "a half-imagined, half-remembered Europe created by émigré directors: Wilder, Sternberg, Mamoulian et al" in '30s and '40s Hollywood movies.

Like Kent Jones said in the liner notes for the Criterion Collection's Royal Tenenbaums DVD, the frequently parodied Anderson is a filmmaker you either get or you don't. I get him. I love the Anderson films Rushmore and Fantastic Mr. Fox and had a blast watching The Grand Budapest Hotel in the theater, especially when the film plays around with aspect ratios and uses them to distinguish which of the film's three--or four, if you count the framing device of a girl reading the book The Grand Budapest Hotel in a cemetary--different time periods you're watching. It's Anderson's track record with characters of color in these upper-class white fantasy worlds of his that I don't get. There are occasional characters of color who are fortunately far from problematic, particularly Danny Glover's Henry Sherman, a widowed accountant who becomes Etheline Tenenbaum's fiancé and whose harmonious relationship with his Navy midshipman son hints that he'll be an even better dad to the grown-up Tenenbaum children than Royal ever was. And then there's, well, Royal's obedient (except for one memorably stabby occasion) Indian lackey Pagoda (the late Kumar Pallana, an Anderson staple) and a bunch of interchangeable and one-dimensional Filipino pirates as the villains in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. You can tell how much research Anderson did about the Philippines during the most unintentionally funny part of his Life Aquatic audio commentary. That would be when Anderson mispronounced my parents' secondary dialect of Tagalog so terribly that the word sounded like it refers to a graffiti artist spray-painting a log (the only white person to ever get right the pronunciation of "Tagalog" on screen--it's "tuh-gaw-luhg," not "tag a log"--was Jeffrey Donovan during a Burn Notice episode).

Here we see Cool Runnings getting reenacted by just two guys who aren't exactly Jamaican.
(Photo source: CreativeCOW)

As the first Anderson film where the main character is non-white, The Grand Budapest Hotel fares alright. In the initially servile-looking role of Zero Moustafa, a lobby boy at the titular hotel who helps concierge and wrongly accused murder suspect Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) clear his name, Tony Revolori, a teenage newcomer of Guatemalan descent, imbues the orphaned Zero, the most fully realized character of color in an Anderson film to date, with a quiet dignity that's reminiscent of both Jared Gilman's similarly orphaned Sam from Moonrise Kingdom and Henry Sherman, plus he gets to have a love life. His hotel baker girlfriend Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) uses her baking skills--which Ronan once admitted were harder to pull off than any of the fight scenes in Hanna--to help Gustave escape from prison in an enjoyable prison break sequence. The one strange thing about Zero, besides the mustache he pencils onto his upper lip each morning, is that he apparently gets whiter as he gets older. His elderly self, who recounts his adventures with Gustave to an unnamed author (Jude Law in the 1968 scenes, Tom Wilkinson in the 1985 scenes), is played by F. Murray Abraham. "Little effort was made to match the two [Zeros], and while Abraham is actually of Syrian/Italian descent, it sort of looks like Zero transforms into a Jewish grandfather by 1965," noted Kailyn Kent in The Hooded Utilitarian.

While Anderson may not be so attentive when it comes to race, The Grand Budapest Hotel is the latest example of how no other filmmaker loves putting characters in uniforms like Anderson does, whether it's Chas Tenenbaum and his sons' Adidas tracksuits, the Khaki Scouts in Moonrise Kingdom or the hotel employees in both The Grand Budapest Hotel (outfitted by Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire costume designer Milena Canonero, whose work landed The Grand Budapest Hotel a costume design Oscar nomination) and The Royal Tenenbaums. Scenes where communities or subcultures pull together in a crisis never quite soar or dazzle like Anderson's do, whether they're moments from Moonrise Kingdom's third act or The Grand Budapest Hotel's rousing Society of Crossed Keys sequence, in which an underground network of concierges from all over the world--three of them are played by three of the stars of Anderson's first two movies--swoops in to help out Gustave. All these exercises in style, visual design and slapstick during The Grand Budapest Hotel would be empty if they weren't surrounded by a modicum of heart and a melancholy longing for both departed friends or loved ones and bygone eras, moments in time that would be lost forever if it weren't for what The Grand Budapest Hotel is ultimately an affecting tribute to, via its bizarre framing-device-within-a-framing-device-within-a-framing-device structure: the power and necessity of storytelling through the ages.

None of Alexandre Desplat's score cues from The Grand Budapest Hotel are currently in rotation on AFOS, but they ought to be.

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