Till det som är vackert [2009)

This is a perfect, imperfect film.

Like Russell’s paradox.

And I hope director Lisa Langseth won’t go all Frege on me and jump out a window.

Ah!

You know…

I have spoiled nothing.

And my words are almost completely inconsequential.

But similar things have been said about La Règle du jeu.

And I disagree with that.

In 1939, Jean Renoir made an unqualified (perfect) masterpiece with that film.

I qualified it only to distinguish from my initial example.

And so Pure (the title of this Swedish film which is currently on Netflix in the U.S.) is much like Asia Argento’s almost-masterpiece Incompresa.

I will be quite blunt.

Lisa Langseth stretches in almost the exact same dimension that Argento did with her fine film.

But the real similarity is acting perfection.

For a young child, Giulia Salerno was magnificent (really!) in Argento’s film.

And so Ms. Argento had the secret weapon.

A (very young) actress capable of cine-magic.

Ms. Langseth was blessed with more-or-less the same thing.

But even better.

[perhaps because the actress was a little older and more experienced]

Alicia Vikander makes Till det som är vackert go.

I mean, really…this is an acting performance unlike any other.

And so my only gripe with Ms. Langseth, the director, is that she stretched the story TOO FAR.

But that’s ok.

Because, you know what?  Maybe I’m wrong.

Langseth and Argento both seem to be trying to tell every story they’ve ever lived…IN ONE FILM.

Argento is the guiltier party.

For most of Pure, Langseth sticks to a taut plot.

Buttressed by Vikander’s exquisite acting, the sum total is ecstasy.

And so, I find myself reacting against the Hitchcock tendency in two films.

Some directors NEED a good dose of Hitchcock.

Wes Anderson, for example.

That guy is so saccharine…that when the fingers come off in Grand Budapest, we finally have a filmmaker.

But Langseth and Argento are telling GRUELING stories throughout (in Pure and Misunderstood, respectively).

And so the heavy bass note…the one which when slammed births the 9th harmonic…it doesn’t work here.

Because the tritone.

To progress through the harmonic series.

And resolve on a tritone.

It takes a special auteur to do such.

And these two ladies are not the dodecaphonists to do so.

They have not worked out a coherent system to justify their heart-ripping atonality.

But fear not.

Pure is so, so, so worth watching!

This is as close as a film can get to masterpiece while still being flawed.

And it’s so very close, I’m wondering whether the flawed one is me.

[no doubt]

Let me correct the record (ouch…David “Scumbag” Brock)…

We get noodles with ketchup.

I mean, this film is Gummo real.

So I want to give some BIG compliments.

Till det som är vackert is the best Swedish film ever made by anyone not named Ingmar Bergman.

In fact, it’s BETTER than several of Bergman’s films.

Shall I name names?

Pure is worlds (WORLDS) better than Fanny and Alexander.

Bergman was in poseur mode.

That flick is so overrated.

And Lisa Langseth totally smokes (eats the lunch of) Bergman.

Further, Till det som är vackert is (in my humble, masculine opinion) the greatest feminist film since 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days…and in some ways EVEN BETTER than that timeless masterpiece.

And so, in general, I bow down in worship to Pure.

We have homelessness.

We have mental illness.

We have resilience.

Naturalism.  Grit.  The bird-soul of music…

The only thing we needed was an editor.

To say.

Cut.

About 20 minutes before the end.

Because Ms. Langseth wants to give us redemption.

She just seems to have her Raskolnikov in the wrong pocket.

It’s ok.

I’m the daftest son of a bitch on the planet.

One last thing…

This movie moved me so much.

The bulk of this film.

Did something to me.

Therapeutic.

And sublimely enlightening.

And so I thank God for Lisa Langseth and Alicia Vikander.

God bless you.

Thank you for making this kind of art.

As Nick Cave sang,

“It’s beauty that’s gonna save the world now”.

-PD

Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure [1985)

This movie is kinda like LSD.

Not that I would know.

But from what I hear…

If you come into it with fear and anxiety, it will be a grating, disorienting, annoying experience.  Frightening.

But if you come into it at peace and relaxed, you might just have a wonderful time viewing this movie.

The first third of the film was tense for me.

Everything is tense for me.

Thank God for drugs.

And so the rest of the film was quite charming and (dare I say?) meaningful.

We probably all know the Pee-Wee story…how he got caught whacking off in an adult movie theater.

But everyone deserves a second chance.

Sure, a guy who wakes up in the morning wearing lipstick and rouge might be a little suspect to some, but this whole film is fantasy.

Back to psychedelics…

It’s only appropriate that my old computer has just come down with the trippiest virus I’ve ever seen.

But no matter.

We push on.

Five more days.

Yes, Pee-Wee is like Mr. Bean.

And when Pee-Wee dances, it presages Napoleon Dynamite’s talent show jaw-dropper by some years.

Paul Reubenfeld –> Paul Reubens –> Pee-Wee Herman

In Hollywood, you can be anyone you want to be.

That’s entertainment (as The Jam sang).

But we have to give a shout out to the adorable Elizabeth Daily who plays Dottie.

Madame Ruby only accepts cash…even on a rainy night.

But she also does income tax.

Sure, Pee-Wee looks a little too comfortable in his Audrey-Hepburn-meets-Laverne-&-Shirley frock, but that’s part of his oblivious joy.

Large Marge is, of course, unforgettable.

Diane Salinger is really great as Simone.

With that aching dream to get to France.

I know.  This dream.

I lived it.

And how I’d so like to go back.

“Au revoir, Simone…”

Nothing like sitting on a tongue…watching the sun come up between some teeth.

But then we get my hometown.

San Antonio.

And a lot of it!

Please don’t think we all speak like Jan Hooks 🙂

As an amnesiac, Pee-Wee can recall but one thing:

“Remember the Alamo!”

Yee-Haw!!!

So let’s see…fainting after bike theft (Truffaut) followed by EMS and oxygen?  Check.

Amnesia after being thrown from a bull?  Check.

Hospitalization after riding a Harley through a wooden sign?  Check.

I am remiss to mention that I forgot the appendectomy in Spies Like Us.

These signs that God is looking out for us.

And France.

A story which didn’t resonate during my youth.

But only after I’d fallen in love to Messiaen.

Only after I became Tropic of Cancer.

A duck in Milton Berle’s pants is enough to get Pee-Wee on set at Warner Brothers.

What ensues is truly a zany take on the car chase cliche.

Then Pee-Wee frees the animals at the zoo.  XMAS

And with handfuls of snakes, faints again (trumping Truffaut) before first responders revive him.

Breaking the rules was a way to promotion in the 1980s.

And when it’s couched in playful imagination, it is charming indeed.

When it’s funny.  A farce.  Comedic.

Pee-Wee as bellhop is like Jason Schwartzman’s understudy in The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Director Tim Burton deserves heaping credit for making this an actually timeless film.  It is creative throughout.

It’s really a joy to see.

Just don’t take the brown acid.

-PD

The Imitation Game [2014)

When I started this site, I focused a considerable bit on “spy spoofs” (which I cheekily filed under “espionage”).

But now we return to espionage in a more serious tenor.

Cryptography, to be exact.

Keep in mind, signals must first be intercepted before they can be decrypted.

Encryption–>Key–>Decryption.

Cipher, rather than code.

[or something like that]

And this story of Alan Turing hits all the right settings of the heart.

Indeed, the seeming Asperger’s case Turing makes a particularly prescient observation in this film.

Namely, that deciphering secret messages is very much like linguistic deconstruction.

Or even like its predecessor, structural linguistics.

Finnegans Wake, by my reading, is largely a sensual text of transgression written in a sort of code language which can only be decoded by a sort of Freudian mechanism inherent in minds similarly repressed by circumstances such as censorship.

There were things which James Joyce could not just come right out and say.

Else he would have ended up like Oscar Wilde (or Alan Turing himself) [though Joyce was pretty evidently heterosexual in excelsis].

And so The Imitation Game is a very fine film indeed about Bletchley Park (and, by extension, its successor the GCHQ).

It makes one reconsider that great piece of British classical music the “Enigma Variations” by Elgar.

Perhaps it was Edward’s premonition.

That a homosexual savant would save many lives through dogged determination to solve what was arguably the ultimate puzzle of its time.

Enigma.  James Bond fans will know it as the Lektor Decoder (a sort of substitution…a cipher…le chiffre…a metonym if not a MacGuffin).

“the article appears to be genuine” [stop]

“go ahead with purchase” [stop]

Smooth jazz on the weather channel…heil Hitler.

It’s true.

In Nazi Germany one was to begin and end even every phone call with “Heil Hitler!”.

Stupidity has its drawbacks.

Donald Trump has been skewered roundly by nearly every globalist publication on the planet, but there is power in the words, “You’re fired.”

Turing very soon realized that breaking the Enigma code was not a job for linguists.

It was purely mathematics, applied with imagination.

One of the most crucial actors in this film, Alex Lawther, plays what might be referred to as Boy With Apple.

There is something befitting of the “agony columns” mentioned by Simon Singh in his tome The Code Book about Turing’s backstory.

In the grown-up Alan Turing, we see the affection that man can have for machine…much like a struggling record producer naming his tape machine.

In the rotors there is music…and plenty of calibration to be done.

But the machine must be allowed to work.

And we must help the machine along by giving it hints on those entities which are “safe to ignore” (a sort of semiotics of limiting the fried pursuit of completism).

Love, as it turns out, sinks the Nazis.

Because even among the rank-and-file (or, perhaps, especially among them) there was a humanity which was not snuffed out.

It’s not because Hitler was a vegetarian who loved his dog.

The machine becomes predictive.

Because we tread the same path daily.

In some way.

In most ways.

Few of us are psychogeographical drifters–few bebop our infinitely-unique situations.

And even Coltrane has some signature licks.

Some runs.

Mystical fingerings.  Scriabin arpeggiated.

Then come statistics.

And megadeath notebooks seem less cynical.

Its the same discipline which made W. Edwards Deming a saint in Japan as he resurrected their economy.

The blowback was the quality revolution.

The next in that manga pantheon perhaps Carlos Ghosn.

Yes, we Trump voters are morons.  No doubt.

You must hide the victories among losses.

Where the chess player comes in.

Hugh Alexander.

Twice.

“You could be my enemy/I guess there’s still time”

Or is it NME?

“I’ve got a pi-an-o/I can’t find the C”

Or is it sea?

I salute thee, old ocean.  A quote by Lautreamont.

Or is it Ducasse?

Perhaps it’s why Ezra Pound was institutionalized.

On the grounds of the future Department of Homeland Security?

St. Elizabeths.  Washington, D.C.

When he spilled the beans about the Federal Reserve “System” to Eustace Mullins.

Finnegans.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley share a truly touching moment of love.

A passion of minds.

Platonic.  Immortal.

But the breaking is IX.  “Nimrod”…

That austere moment of British greatness.

One of only a handful of UK classical strains which really matter.

Sinopoli does it nicely.  With the Philharmonia.

Only a moron like me would vote for Trump.

To suffer for one’s art.

To turn off the lights and watch the machine come to life.

A miracle of whirligigs and glowing vacuum tubes.

Director Morten Tyldum expresses this ineffable humming solitude in the seventh art.

Cinema.

This dedication.

Dedicated.

And this love.

Which leads both telegraph operator and polymath to tap out the letters of their beloved.

Forever.

 

-PD

I Could Never Be Your Woman [2007)

We get older.  It’s hard.  Our lives didn’t turn out like fairytales.  And yet, we push on.  We live.  We work.  We study.  We survive.  Oh, how much it can mean…a kind word.  A moment extra taken to be gentle.  Humble.  Respectful.  Thankful.

I didn’t know what I was getting into when I threw on this film.  I’ve sought out Saoirse Ronan films because I have been so impressed with her acting in Hanna and The Grand Budapest Hotel.  Suffice it to say, some of her lesser-known films…I never would have watched otherwise.  But it’s good.  It’s good to exit the genres and areas with which we are most comfortable.

Some of these newer films…there is a trepidation which precedes the viewing.  I wonder if I can make it past the first 10 or 15 minutes.  Let me say quite plainly:  this is a pretty damn good film.

Credit director and writer Amy Heckerling with tapping into a vein of stories which need to be told.  Likewise, Michelle Pfeiffer was just the right choice to express the marginalized stories which come to the forefront in this film.  Paul Rudd is a shockingly-good support here.

You want marginalized?  Well, this film went straight to DVD in the U.S.  That’s an insult.  I don’t care what the market research said:  that was a mistake.  Film history will vindicate these pictures which were treated thusly.

Over the hill…  40.  Women have it hard.  And so do dudes like Adam Pearl (Paul Rudd).  Teenage girls have it particularly hard.  Saoirse really does a masterful job of delineating a tough role.

I will admit:  this film made me tearful on several occasions.  Jon Lovitz…yeah, that’s the ticket.  Fred Willard…spot on.  But no, neither of those two.  It’s that look on Pfeiffer’s face when Rudd first reads in an audition.  It’s the right look.  Taking pride in your craft as a dramatist…even if you’ve been reduced to producing prepubescent pablum.

I’ve been in that chair.  A lifetime’s work for one or two lines that might be remembered by history.  I’ve been on that date.  I live that life every day.  Age.  And I’ve been the nerd.  Whoa have I been the nerd!

I’ve never lied about my age, but I know the industries where that becomes commonplace.  No, I’ve never gotten that whole lying thing down very well.  Yeah…me and Napoleon Dynamite would be best friends.  I guess that makes me Pedro…

Ah, but belief…  You can hear it in Bob Dylan’s new album Shadows in the Night.  We never stop believing.  We can’t.  We’d better not.  And Tracey Ullman is in our ear with the bad news…

You are right to be paranoid.  In general, the world is set up to get you down.  Globalizing…hah!  Perhaps generalizing?  Past aggressive.  Passed aggressive.  We hear the phrase and we assimilate into our patois.  The phrases don’t come with user’s manuals.

It’s a set-up.  I hyphenate when I please–when I’m damned good and ready.

And so I cry that I was human.  But most of all we cry for ourselves.  When the bottom falls out of your little corner of the entertainment industry.  This isn’t Los Angeles.

Yeah, I can relate.  With all of it.  Trying on pants.  Damn it.

Some people think they have me all figured out.  But mostly, they don’t think.  About me:

I don’t have a demo.  I have finished films.  Call Harry Smith from beyond the grave.  He’ll vouch for me.

Beware of the fake.  I just want to put food on the table.  The only thing that can’t be faked nowadays is food on the table.

Fuck it.  Gimme GMO.  My high horse rode off long ago.  Soft kill the shit outta me.  You’ll never know the sadness of the streets.

And for that you are poorer.  Consider it like a fine wine…or a classic foreign film.  Oops, sorry:  no corkscrew and no subtitles.

The Fonz reads Sartre…laughing.  Eat your heart out David Lynch.

You should have given him another chance.  You’re so responsible.  You threw away a heroic love.

I stayed as true as I could.  And now nobody calls.  My emails go unanswered.

Yes, the time stamp gives it away.  The BBC was 20 minutes early.  WTC 7.

Suck away.  I have moved on.  No, I’m not happy.

When Hal Blaine hits the floor tom and snare after the intro…like the world comes to a violent halt:  “Wouldn’t it be nice…”

We get older.  Mother Nature calls it creative destruction…maybe.  When the shit hits the tiara.

-PD

Moonraker [1979)

This was Lewis Gilbert’s best Bond film (which isn’t saying very much).  This film straddles the line between good and bad filmmaking for its entirety.  At the end it’s hard to say just which has edged the other out in predomination.

Something tells me the director in question is less to blame for these debacles than I had previously thought.  It seems that there was an artless voice from above which was exerting pressure upon our metteur en scène.  Was it perhaps Albert Broccoli?

Enough with the finger-pointing.  Let’s talk about why this film is bad (and occasionally good).

The opening sequence is quite masterful.  It is, in fact, to these eyes more impressive than the feted ski jump from The Spy Who Loved Me.  And so, from the start, we are back in the company of dear old Jaws (Richard Kiel).  Any question as to whether he survived the fall from a plane sans parachute is answered quite quickly in the opening credits.  His name is prominent enough (comes quickly after the top-billed stars) that we assume (and correctly) that he did indeed live through the plunge.  It is just this sort of clumsy filmmaking which typifies Gilbert’s contributions to the series.  This daft touch even shows up at the end of the opening credits when the last chord of the song carries over like a maudlin, syrupy blanket into the shot of Q milling about in M’s office.  It is like we are watching Days of Our Lives.  One can hardly take such careless filmmaking seriously.

At least Holly Goodhead continues a string of success regarding the names of Bond girls.

Perhaps the most telling S.O.S. from Lewis Gilbert is the obvious homage to Jean Renoir’s La Règle du jeu.  As Drax and his hunting party are taking leisure in sportsmanship, his assistants are swatting at the tree trunks with sticks or canes to scare the birds into the air.  Only the finest of minds would work this deft reference into such an otherwise brutish series.

The bit atop Sugarloaf Mountain is generally delightful.  Perhaps Wes Anderson had this in mind when he plotted the funicular rendezvous in The Grand Budapest Hotel.  Jaws meeting the buxom, bespectacled Dolly is just impossibly cute (with the strains of Tchaikovsky in the background).  In a final bit of touching panache, Jaws switches allegiances to help out Bond and Goodhead.  It is actually a masterful stroke in a series rife with pithy henchmen.  We even get to hear Kiel’s voice for once (after he pops a champagne cork by prying it off with his metal teeth).

The film really gets bad when it tries to not only relive the glory of Thunderball, but also tries to transpose that elusive magic into the milieu of Star Wars.  To say that the outer-space laser battle has not aged well would be a fairly grand understatement.  Of particular offence are the sound effects which make Oskar Sala’s noises from The Birds sound like Mozart by comparison.  The lasers sound so cheap and doinky that the entire mise-en-scène falls apart.

Gilbert didn’t really have a very persuasive Bond girl to work with either.  Lois Chiles has about as much personality as a wet rag.  Likewise, we are subject to “villain fail” once again.  Michael Lonsdale is merely a sweaty schlub who happens to have the same tailor as Chairman Mao.  Toshiro Suga is comedically unmenacing.  Corinne Cléry would have made a much better Bond girl.  At least her demise at the hand (paw?) of dogs was unique to the series thus far.

Truth be told:  Blanche Ravalec is the most attractive girl in this movie (with honorable mention to the redhead and the short-haired blonde in Drax’s “ark”).

But saving the most important for last, let us try and deconstruct after Derrida.  The positively worst, most abrupt cut in the entire series happens when Bond is ejected from the back of an ambulance onto a road in Rio.  With absolutely no segue, we next see him on a horse in full vaquero costume.  It is at this point that the movie becomes so absurdly bad and ineptly surreal.  In truth, the whole film hinges on this one amateurish cut.  And it is from analyzing outwards (concentrically) that I assume Lewis Gilbert was subject to a maltreatment akin to that suffered by Orson Welles post-Kane.  No director deserves to be so abused.

 

-PD

Hanna [2011)

This is quite possibly the best film I’ve ever seen.  Once or twice every generation an actress comes along who is well beyond all the rest.  That actress, for this generation, is Saoirse Ronan.  I would not have come by this film were it not for her turn in The Grand Budapest Hotel.  That film is likewise one of the best I’ve ever seen.  This one is better.  Why?  Because Miss Ronan is allowed to show a much wider array of her skills.

I had previously thought Wes Anderson a modest director until his most recent aforementioned film.  The Grand Budapest Hotel is his first great, timeless piece of cinema.  The key (though it may go unnoticed by many) is Saoirse.  The name Joe Wright meant nothing to me prior to tonight.  I must congratulate him on a near-perfect movie.

Yes, this is a movie.  And a film.  There is a difference.  Movies are entertainment.  Films are cinema.  Guy Hamilton proved in The Man with the Golden Gun that a movie could also be a film.

Mr. Wright’s film benefits from an anti-fascist plot which would do the opponents of Operation Gladio and other black ops proud.  I count myself among their number.

Hanna is a genetically-modified human…a prototype super-soldier.  Cate Blanchett plays her role so wonderfully (like James Mason in NXNW) that we wonder if there is a heart beating at all under there.  Ms. Blanchett portrays the CIA officer who helmed the genetic research which spawned Hanna.  To call her icy would be an understatement.  She registers at absolute zero.

The beauty of this story is when its’ arc arrives at the golden mean:  the moment Hanna first hears music.  To be precise, it is the moment when she equates music with the encyclopedic definition she learned as a quasi “wild child” in the Finnish arctic.  Funny how a comparison can be made to François Truffaut and the director in question is not Anderson (whose style most resembles the sentimentality of Truffaut), but Wright.  The link is L’Enfant sauvage from 1970.  Anderson, for his part, found the golden mean in The Grand Budapest Hotel by way of Saoirse Ronan as well.  That moment is the magical kaleidoscopic close-up of her angelic face aboard a merry-go-round.

Both Hanna and The Grand Budapest Hotel straddle a line which would have made Hitchcock proud.  In the latter, Mendl’s pastries are all the sweeter for scenes such as the one in which Jeff Goldblum loses four of his fingers.  In the former, the PG-13 rating is pushed to the max with gruesome deaths (such as Knepfler’s topsy-turvy demise à la Saint Sebastian…particularly as depicted by Odilon Redon), yet there is an innocence and panache to the whole affair.  Credit Wright with knowing how to offset the sheer terror of the premise with essential throwaway aspects such as the camper-van family (who, by the way, do a lovely rendition of Bowie’s “Kooks” from Hunky Dory).  The whole juxtaposition is positively Beethovenian.  And none of it would have been possible without the Leitmotiv and soul of this film:  Saoirse Ronan.  She did not, as it turns out, miss MY heart.  The Academy just missed its best actress.  I have a feeling her coup de grâce is yet to come.

 

-PD

The Grand Budapest Hotel [2014)

There have been two movies in my lifetime which affected me so that I saw them multiple times in the theater:  Life Is Beautiful and Genghis Blues.  Along with those two masterful films I would add three which have a similar effect on me and formed my pantheon of five as a college student and young adult:  Cinema Paradiso, Central Station and the original Willy Wonka.  Few films have ever touched me quite like these.  There have been a few:  Spirit of the Beehive, Wild Strawberries and even Amelie, but I didn’t feel the same level of “ownership” in the stories–the same resonant investment in the storylines and mise-en-scène.  But it has come time to add to the pantheon of five–a reservoir of naïveté which has remained untouched since at least the time of my reading James Monaco’s book on the French New Wave.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is an unqualified masterpiece.  It is not often that I even feel drawn to a movie theater whatsoever these days.  It takes a lot to get me out of the house as far as cinema is concerned.  My interest in this particular film owes to a job which I recently secured and ultimately quit (within a week or so) at an old, old hotel in San Antonio, TX.  I had initially intended to see the film ostensibly for “research,” but when I finally saw it (after quitting my brief stint as a hotelier) it took on a different and immensely significant meaning for me.

I don’t want to spoil the plot or ending, so I will refrain from giving away too much info concerning either.  I will, however, say right up front that the secret star of this film is Saoirse Ronan.  She is the Anna Karina of this movie and she enabled Wes Anderson to make a truly transcendent picture.  Ralph Fiennes is magnificent as Monsieur Gustave H., but it is Ronan as Agatha who embodies the film in such a way that I can only compare to Poe’s story The Oval Portrait (which played such a large role in Godard’s Vivre sa vie).  The movie really gets going in earnest when Anderson goes to a magical close-up of Agatha (Ronan) on a merry-go-round.  It is from the POV of her beau Zero (Tony Revolori) and its weightless, gossamer delicacy sets the stage for what will become (throughout the remainder of the movie) Wes Anderson’s best film to date.

Leave it to Anderson to give the beautiful, chaste Agatha a huge birthmark the shape of Mexico on the side of her cheek.  Perhaps it was a nod to Gorbachev, but the effect is such that the beautiful Ronan becomes even more adorable and perfect by way of her imperfections.  Indeed, it is when she is covered in flour at her job baking pastries that she reaches her highest peak of sublime cinematic presence.  Even in her “mug shot” (which figures into the plot), she exudes mystery and imagination in her smile-less stare.

The red-headed, fair-skinned Ronan is part of a color scheme on the part of Anderson which includes powder-blue uniforms and cotton-candy-pink pastry boxes.  Even The Grand Budapest Hotel itself is pink…like a giant pastry or gingerbread house (indeed, it is a model…a miniature…a favorite directorial device of Anderson).

But make no mistake, the royal-purple-clad gents whose acting makes this the coup that it is are Fiennes and Revolori.  To call it a “buddy flick” would be doing the entire creation a grave injustice.  Perhaps it is a comedy of manners?  Or perhaps sui generis.  Anderson’s “tricks” have never been employed to such successful effect until this film.  It is as if all his prior attempts were quite good practice runs at making this film.

Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe are integral to the fabric of this sentimental, yet razor-sharp tapestry.  Anderson manages to draw from so many influences (I seemed to notice Tati) such that the piece as a whole avoids being a puppy dogs and ice cream affair.  Goldblum and Dafoe play out a sub-plot of sorts (in terms of filmic references) which hints very strongly at Hitchcock.  It is just this dash of bitter verismo which holds the confection together and makes it truly delicious.

The story (not to mention the dialogue) would do a writer such as Ernest Lehman (North By Northwest) proud.  Monsieur Gustave is infinitely quotable and his character bears a striking resemblance to Cary Grant in terms of mannerisms.  It is as if Roger Thornhill somehow ended up in the maze that is Tati’s Playtime.  Indeed, Gustave H. is a man on the run (just as Grant’s character in NXNW).  And as per the Hitchcock motif of “the wrong man,” Gustave is, of course, innocent.

But the truly remarkable thing about The Grand Budapest Hotel is the expansive, somewhat metaphorical love story it encapsulates.  Wes Anderson succeeds in channeling not only Truffaut, but Bergman (particularly Ingmar’s bittersweet Wild Strawberries).  The overall narrative device of a recounting (Zero as an old man) and the framing of impressionable literary admiration (the student reading the “fictional novel” at beginning and end afore the canonical author’s statue) allow the film to operate on several levels simultaneously. The viewer is invited to hop on board the elevator at any floor and draw meaning from any of the many strata.  It is like a cake–a fine, layered pastry from the old world.

There is indeed an air of panache which wafts through the illustrious halls represented in this film.  It is, in some ways, a fairy tale and a morality play.  Do the right thing and you might just end up with Snow White.  And you might, with extraordinary integrity and compassion, get to have your cake and eat it too.

 

-PD