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  • Writer's pictureJohn Parker

The Grand Budapest Hotel: Criterion Collection Blu-Ray Review

Never have a single film and a home entertainment distribution label been more suited to each other than The Grand Budapest Hotel and the Criterion Collection. Wes Anderson’s idiosyncratic masterpiece is a finely crafted comic caper, full of kitsch details and gorgeous design. Appropriately enough, this week’s UK release of the Criterion Blu-ray is absolutely beautiful, sure to delight both fans of Anderson and collectors of physical media.

When you look at the plot on paper, it seems so dark and serious-minded. A wealthy countess (Tilda Swinton) has died, and Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) the concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel is framed for her murder and sent to prison. Meanwhile, Zubrowka (the fictional Eastern European country where all the action takes place) is plunged into war and fascist control.

Hardly the basis for a whimsical farce, but Anderson softens the serious edges through his playful style. His use of colour and music, his trademark deadpan wit, the sumptuous production design, and visionary approach to space and motion all contribute to a deliriously fun viewing experience, even for the more sombre and melancholic moments. The Grand Budapest Hotel finds the director at his most visually and narratively mischievous. Blending different filmmaking techniques (such as 2-D animation and miniatures) with layered storytelling, it’s a complex concoction, but he carries it off with the deftest of touches.

The film centres on the antics and adventures of the foppish Gustave, an uproariously funny turn from Ralph Fiennes, showing off his full range of emotion and extraordinary comic timing. He takes the lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori) under his wing and tutors him in the fine art of being a hotel concierge, which includes his predilection for rich old women, a weakness of his that propels the plot forward.

When Swinton’s wealthy dowager bequeaths a priceless renaissance painting to Gustave in her will, it puts him directly in the crosshairs of her awful son Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and his psychotic henchman Jopling (Willem Dafoe). The location of the painting, and who has possession of it, is the MacGuffin that keeps all the various wheels and cogs of the plot in motion.

Elsewhere in the cast you have Tom Wilkinson as the story’s narrator, Jude Law as a younger version of the narrator, F. Murray Abraham as an older version of Zero, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman as fellow concierges, Saoirse Ronan as a gifted pâtissière and the object of Zero’s affections, and Edward Norton as a fascist police captain. Woody Allen once said that no one ever delivered his dialogue better than Martin Landau. I would say the same of Norton in relation to his films with Wes Anderson. They are the perfect match of actor and filmmaker.

This is something I always say when reviewing a Wes Anderson film, but he arguably stands alone in contemporary cinema as the filmmaker who is the most acquired taste. If you don’t dig his style already, The Grand Budapest Hotel is not going to change your mind. However, if you are already in the Wes Anderson fan club, this film will leave you giddy.

This is one of the Criterion Collection releases that you really have to own. Nothing has been held back in the creation of this gorgeous piece of physical media. First up on the disc, is an audio commentary recorded in 2020, featuring Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jeff Goldblum, and film critic Kent Jones.

Visiting The Grand Budapest Hotel is a series of three short documentaries which take you behind the scenes of the design, special effects, miniatures, and music of the film. These are very detailed and in-depth clips, offering fascinating insight into the intensely choreographed filmmaking style of Anderson.

The Making of The Grand Budapest Hotel is a 20-minute assemblage of fly-on-the-wall on-set footage, providing a close up look at Anderson working with his actors, as well as seeing the films other key departments working to the bring the scenes together.

Next up, there are 25-minutes of animatic storyboards, and two video essays, one from film scholar David Bordwell, and another from critic Matt Zoller Seitz. For those looking for a deeper critical dive into the film, you will find much to enjoy in these.

From the press kit, there are ten featurettes, which among many other things include more behind the scenes clips, and Bill Murray taking us on a tour of Görlitz in Germany, where much of the film was shot. Finally, on the disc is the film’s trailer. For those of you who love physical media, you will be delighted with the packaging itself, which also includes a booklet with essays on the film, a collectible poster, and other memorabilia associated with the film. If there is a better Blu-ray release than this in 2021, then what a great year it will have been.


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