Wes Anderson’s most densely plotted film by more than a considerable margin, complete with a Matryoska doll structure that heightens our awareness of storytelling and how the passage of time imprints the past through the act of looking back. The director’s detail-oriented aesthetic and centered formalism continues to turn what was once stylistic affectation into his own purified visual language. He almost exclusively speaks in push-ins, right angles, three aspect ratios, horizontal and whip pans, presentational framing, miniatures, hand-stitched props, matte backdrops, etc. And this time around, he quite literally creates his own nation, a 1930’s Eastern European pastiche, with historical parallels of the time that purposely recall the ways in which Old Hollywood often depicted the ‘foreignness’ of Europe as an unspecified blanket of antiquated charm. Outside of Hollywood influences, such as the particular brand of dizzying energy, Powell/Pressburger looms heavy over all.
Character on the peripheral level is certainly sacrificed to a degree in favor of the nest-egg plot that has hardly any time to dilly-dally with character development not addressing its focus of looking back. An example of this can be seen with Zero and Agatha and the sore spot of it being handled in an ‘oh-yeah-this-was-also-happening’ way. Thankfully, Gustave and his dynamic with the young Zero comes through loud and clear, keying into the film’s swiftness via Gustave’s fast-tracking companionship. Everyone else leaves their mark in some fashion, with varying degrees of success, mostly adding up to caricatures I wish had packed more of a kooky collective punch as opposed to the window-dressing feel of certain players.
This brings us around the ingenious Ralph Fiennes. This is an instance where an actor’s work stamps a character in such a way that the two become inseparable. What I mean is that Fiennes brings Gustave to life in a way nobody else could have, or at least his take on the role suggests as much. For all the savory technical goods, Fiennes wins the If-I-Had-To-Pick-A-Personal-Highlight award. The character as written and performed is made up of comic enthusiasm, antique proclivities and poetic rants. I know this has turned into a praise-rant, but it really is one of the most enjoyable-to-watch performances I’ve seen in years, and if asked to pick a favorite Wes Anderson character, Gustave is on the shortlist.
Clicking along at an almost exhausting pace (I don’t think I could ever conceive of watching this and The LEGO Movie back-to-back), you immediately sense several swigs of the film are in order to grasp and appreciate it story-wise. The underlying sadness provides a nice contrast to the high-energy caper on the surface. Moments of darkly comic macabre violence catch us off-guard, slyly anticipating the very real mourning of change and dire times. Scenarios are revisited with different outcomes and new losses. By the end, we realize that the madcap story is a victory lap for its Old World characters in which Gustave and Zero are given the tribute of triumph in a story being told, being told, being told.
– One of my favorite touches is how long it takes Dmitri to realize that “Boy with Apple” is missing.
– I want (have) love Alexandre Desplat’s score, which adds such a consistent feel to the entire piece, that of twinkling adornments, foot-tapping snares and ominous organs.
– The fate of a certain cat (this is the second film in a row of Anderson’s which features splayed animal death)
– I love that Willem Dafoe is basically a real-life rendition of his character in Fantastic Mr. Fox
– “Take over”
– Gustave’s various outbursts
– Zero’s applied mustache