This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Wintergreen’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
"I think his world had vanished long before he ever entered it. But he certainly sustained the illusion with a marvelous grace."
had I been properly aware of such things in 2014 (when i had yet to see any R-rated films beyond the time i secretly watched the South Park movie in my basement at night), I can't imagine anticipating such a film as Grand Budapest from Wes Anderson. what to make of a film which in many respects reads as something akin to an apology, from one of the most unapologetic American filmmakers? (Bearing in mind that very few things in this world are worthy of more derision than those which one could describe as both distinctly "unapologetic" and "American").
speaking of apologies, I have been much too kind to Wes in the past and will likely continue to be on account of my exposure at a formative age. and Grand Budapest is neither complete nor sufficient in the aforementioned regard--for example, Wes is still willing to entertain with slurs, racial and homophobic (the same two rear their head in Tenenbaums and Zissou respectively, and in fairly similar contexts. Wes has not grown as a writer in many regards). It's also very telling that he followed up Budapest with a film like Isle of Dogs which is pretty indicative of his inability to ACTUALLY contend with the realities of imperialism and orientalism and white savior narratives etc etc etc as they crop up in his work. there is a deliberation with which he makes films about whiteness but all-too-often he pulls punches and tips the scales on account of his own fragility as a white man.
without mincing words he is a racist. and that undercurrent is present in all of his films. even (and in fact particularly, wrt Danny Glover's character in Tenenbaums) the ones i happen to connect to. When called out on this fact, he shirks responsibility or feigns docility or both but the kind of person who finds being called "racist" a greater slight than being the victim of racism is unquestionably racist.
That may be why M. Gustave's apology ultimately lasts about as long as Zero's explanation of his past. Wes does want us to think of him as a good person, as a matter of fact he kind of insists upon it. And in fairness he genuinely comes across as a person willing to do the right thing up to and including paying the ultimate price for someone who is ultimately, an immigrant and refugee.
He is not blameless though. There's a reason he has to die, and the most fascinating piece of this film states quite bluntly that the facade of bourgeois "niceness" he spent his entire existence perpetuating meant fuck all in the end.
This is also where Wes inevitably pulls his punch. Regarding the rise and influence of fascism, he obfuscates the culpability of more or less the entirety of the film's cast. or at least, he's willing to paint Gustav's disregard of the encroaching reality of fascism as naive. but of course, Gustave in his decadent palace with his l'aire de panache would think himself safe as a white moderately wealthy capitalist who regularly schmoozes with aristocrats. his very essence is liberal. and though he apologizes for the things he says to Zero (who may very well be the only PoC in Wes' filmography who doesn't feel subject to his awkward tokenisms; he in fact is the most genuine character in the whole of the film), that may very well be more to save face than as an acknowledgement of his own shortcomings as a human (he sees both himself and Zero as people worthy of respect which says something for sure but not nearly enough in and of itself).
Gustave does not meet a "just" fate so to speak, which would theoretically happen at the hands of the exploited rather than the fascists whose uprising he undeniably has culpability in. But one could just as easily say that in the split second he was given to choose between the safety of his own power and wealth, and that of the boy in front of him, he instantaneously threw all of it away to keep Zero safe. Of course, liberals respond to that kind of literality instead of asking the other more pressing questions, but it does also seem Gustave died mere weeks after becoming wealthy.
More to the point, Gustave dies, and the hotel withers away. Zero's life as a capitalist is probably more deserving of scrutiny but the picture Wes chooses to paint is of a sad old man who was never happy with his empire or wealth anyways (there's a parallel to be made here to Citizen Kane though Budapest is obviously the less caustic of the two to its own detroment). The movie in typical Wes Anderson fashion is coy about its history and geography. The film's setting of "Zubrowka" is named after a vodka. The intended association with regards to the "regime" Zero negotiates most of his fortune to in order to keep the now-dead hotel is presumably Soviet. not much else is stated as to the nature of this transaction, which when push comes to shove is to the film's benefit. It's clear Zero found no comfort in his fortune.
As for the hotel, there is still a great melancholy surrounding the place. I no longer feel as though there is any great loss in the decay of the once pastel-colored palace into the shabby brown building it becomes before demolition. The emptiness of it is more striking to me than anything. Yet if i'm being honest, and the reason this film works in spite of itself I believe, are those last few minutes wherein Zero elaborates on the nature of his sentimental connection with the hotel.
"The hotel, I keep for Agatha. We were happy here, for a little while."
He speaks fondly of Gustave but rather pointedly rebuffs him in the end as someone who went around chasing something that never really existed.
To that extent the very least I can say about Grand Budapest is that it is Wes Anderson's most self-aware film. What's frustrating is that he seems to have no intention of evolving as a human being. He's made his attachments and sympathies clear. nonetheless there are faint glimmers of humanity underneath. in this specific instance some kind of better nature won over his obsessions. as for what that means in the grand scheme of artistic value, im not enough of a thinker or writer to lay out.
i will contend that it would be infinitely more effective a statement if Grand Budapest was his last film. that's obviously too much to ask tho.