By Michael Calleri
Niagara Gazette — A candy-colored fable and a motion picture legend are on the boards at movie theaters this weekend.
The films are writer-director Wes Anderson’s endearing “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” about the goings-on at a gleaming pink pleasure palace, and Emmanuelle Bercot’s enchanting “On My Way,” which stars France’s legendary Catherine Deneuve as a woman of a certain age coping with upsetting events in her life.
Almost everyone has a list of their top three features by Anderson, a filmmaker who takes exacting fantasy to new heights of enjoyability. I am a fan of his, and I especially relish the delights of “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “The Darjeeling Limited,” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”
Watching “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is like watching a perpetual cuckoo clock. Anderson presents a zany story that never stops moving. It unreels in layers, like the delicious cake that everyone in the picture savors.
A writer (Tom Wilkinson) is telling a well-remembered story. His younger self (Jude Law) is seen listening to the owner (F. Murray Abraham) of the Grand Budapest Hotel, which isn’t really in Budapest, but is located in a comic opera kind of country called Zubrowka that exists in the 1930s between the great wars.
Abraham’s character tells Law’s character about his younger self and the glory days of great hotels, when he was a Lobby Boy at the Grand Budapest. While a Lobby Boy (played by Tony Revolori), he came under the guidance of M. Gustave, the greatest concierge in all of European hoteldom. He’s a precise and professional gentleman of the highest standards. Anyone’s wish is his command, sex included. Ralph Fiennes is brilliant as Gustave, who inherits a painting a family doesn’t think he deserves.
While working for M. Gustave, our eager Lobby Boy is thrown into a madcap caper involving the valuable painting, a wizened old lady (Tilda Swinton), a wry lawyer (Jeff Goldblum), a tattooed prison inmate (Harvey Keitel), a hired killer (Willem Dafoe), a pretty young woman with a birthmark shaped like Mexico on her face (Saoirse Ronan), and a society of well-practiced men whose job is to serve as a concierge for life. Bill Murray shows up here. Also on tap are Lea Seydoux, Edward Norton, and Bob Balaban.
The fun that pours out of every frame of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is contagious. It’s like watching a Marx Brothers comedy as made in the florid style of Ernst Lubitsch, who directed movies in Hollywood as if he was still in the Germany of the two Kaiser Wilhelms. At one point, Anderson delivers a snowbound chase scene that is exciting in its simplicity and energetic in its technique. The film’s production vales are sumptuous. Robert D. Yeoman’s cinematography is exquisite.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a delirious, chutes and ladders-style adventure. Picture those Russian matryoshka nesting dolls set free and running around like crazy. It’s that kind of movie.
In “On My Way,” Deneuve plays Bettie, a former beauty queen, now in her mid-60s, who runs a failing bistro in Brittany, is estranged from her angry daughter from her only marriage, and has been unceremoniously dumped by her current longtime lover. He leaves her for a playful 25-year old. If that isn’t enough, Bettie’s world is dominated by her mother with whom she lives.
In a completely understandable way, which only the French can pull off with genuine style, Bettie’s first thought after the break-up is to have a cigarette, a habit she had ended but is now ready to resume. The desire to smoke leads Bettie on a road trip through some very alluring French scenery.
She will meet, and do much more than greet, a younger man at a wild bar called Le Ranch. And she will also participate in a reunion, of sorts, with former beauty queens, all facing the twin hurdles of age and sagging everything. But most importantly in director Bercot’s good-natured comedy, which is filled with many truisms, Bettie will reunite with her grandson, a sweet and energetic 11-year old who will help guide her through the realities of her new, and possibly frightening, status in life.
“On My Way,” which is part of the grand re-opening celebration of Buffalo’s restored North Park Theatre, is about sincere people who work hard, try to do good things, and strive to cope with whatever the world throws at them. Bercot, who co-wrote the believable and engaging screenplay with Jerome Tonnerre, is a director who knows exactly when to let the sparkling cast, especially the glorious Deneuve, deliver the emotional highs and lows of her story.
The entertaining movie is about recognizing that aging doesn’t mean being decrepit or having to be put out to pasture. The French respect all of their generations, and “On My Way” is a wonderful tribute to this way of thinking.
Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.