Wes Anderson divides opinion. Of that there can be no debate.
This movie will divide opinion. Of that there is no doubt.
But it is a work of very great merit because it takes the medium and turns it upside down. This movie melds slapstick with performance art, melodrama with interior design, comedy with tragedy and it makes Ralph Feinnes a little bit godlike (something I never thought I’d never catch myself saying).
Feinnes’ central performance in this movie is mesmerising. Half terribly polite, terribly gay aristocrat, half rampantly heterosexual (having bedded half the female population of the fictitious Zubrowka, a European alpine state). He swears like a trooper, in the most inappropriate way in an ever so pukkah accent that just doesn’t seem right.
He leads us through the proceedings with such dexterity that you cannot possibly guess what is coming next, aided throughout by his sidekick – the 17 year old Lobby Boy Zero Mustapha played by Tony Revolori (he looks about 10, perhaps exacerbated by his hilarious hand drawn moustache).
The movie is mainly shot in flashback as the older Zero Mustapha (H. Murray Abraham) recalls the tale of how he came to own what was once a grand edifice but is now entirely run down and frequented by a bunch of random loners.
The tale is, of course, ridiculous and involves murder, robbery, disputed wills and the most outrageous jail break you will ever see in your life.
The flashback element is framed in a perfect square – a screen shape not seen since the silent era (it’s not even 4:3 aspect ratio it’s 4:4. Although it’s described as 1:37 on IMDB – not so).
Frame after frame brings delight. The attention to detail in propping, in background asides, in costume and in the comic use of animation or manipulated film speed (the sledge scene is a hoot) adds layer upon layer and makes the movie a must see again to pick out what you missed the first time.
The cast list is too long to list here but I counted 13 bona fide A listers. Spot them if you can as some of them aren’t on screen long (an unrecognisable Tilda Swinton, for example, departs after about 5 minutes).
Repeatedly Anderson uses repetition in his script and it’s laugh out loud funny every time.
How good was it?
Well, put it this way, I ain’t ever seen an audience burst into almost universal spontaneous applause on a rainy Tuesday night outside of a film festival.
That’s how good it is.