Sonntag Filmtag: The Grand Budapest Hotel

This afternoon, I was finally able to go see The Grand Budapest Hotel, after a number of false starts. My comrade and I went to the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Yonkers, where we had a pot of French press coffee and hot cookies with ice cream, and enjoyed their collection of “influences” and past Anderson shorts before the film played. I’ve commented in the past on the expectations surrounding timeliness on the internet, and I’m sure that there are standards I’m not meeting by commenting on this movie now, when it’s already been out for several weeks, but I simply cannot pass it by; I enjoyed it much too much to be silent.

Addressing the anxieties surrounding the perceived disappearance of forms of culture in the first half of the past century, and especially around and through the two great European wars, Anderson at the same time applies himself to the ways in which we ask questions about that moment and that disappearance, as well as the means with which we communicate our reception of those anxieties.That is, he takes text - its modes, its channels of influence, is physicalities - as his explicit subject matter.First, there are the nested narrative frames: three or four, depending on whether you're counting narrative perspectives or time-and-place settings.

The multiple removes, of the young reader from the old author (known to us as "author"), of the author from his younger self, of the young author from the subject of his book, of the subject, Zero Moustafa, from his younger self, whose story he narrates, clearly mirror the experience of those of us who came of age in time to participate in the world that constitutes the centennial of the changes that still haunt and form our cultural understandings and our collective memory.

Then within the central narrative, it's the texts that tell the story and motivate most of the action: telegrams, travel papers, messages missing and intercepted, secreted, coded, found or retrieved. Then, of course, there is the document upon which the whole adventure depends: the will of Madame D., a box full of disordered papers of various sizes, bundled and folded and stacked in a ramshackle way. This visual precedes and anticipates the revelation that a pertinent document is missing, and it is that missing document that, before it is found, costs many characters their lives.

Then there are the relationships of individual characters to their textual expression. Gustave H. recites bad poetry, of which he seems to have so vast a store in his memory as to be prepared with relevant lines for any situation. Zero, who signals his loyalty and intention to align himself with Gustave and even take him as a model with a visible sign, a mustache he draws above his lip, also parrots Gustave's favorite verses. The unfortunate honest attorney, Kovacs, in the meantime, who always speaks as if in written - that is, codified - prose, and who alone understands the intricacies of the unruly will, is finally silenced with the symbolic removal of the fingers from his writing hand, immediately before his murder.

In the outer layers of the narration, there is the voice of Zero, who is ultimately given both control and credit in respect to the story of which he is the only known survivor, while the author of the book that is supposed to have brought the story its fame is given neither a name nor much of a voice. In the meantime, the fake country names and the stylized uniforms of the military regimes, which make clear references to our history without going so far as to trespass upon realism, suggest that the story is in a way translated, perhaps from another language, but also from a different time and place, plucked out of a world that, as the older Zero points out at the end of the film, didn't really exist anymore even at the time of the story he has just related.

In short, I can’t wait until I can get this on DVD and catalogue these threads with greater accuracy and detail. But apart from all that, I was lost in the beauty of the snow and the colors, and of course, the pastry. The urgency of my emotional response to the aesthetic of this world allowed me to put on hold even concerns about the sense in which the generally very likable Gustave could have been using the word “pure” in reference to the story’s beautiful young woman - soon to be beautiful dead woman, and we nod to Poe - Agatha. So much for now - until the DVD.