Wednesday, April 16, 2014

An Evening at the Grand Budapest Hotel

In my first fortnight in Berlin, I’ve been to an oratorio, a chamber music concert, a musical … tomorrow its an opera … and today it was, wait for it a movie!  Yes, my fourth movie this decade. And how was it, Kurt? Yeah, it was fine. Rather imperfect, but fine. And frustrating, because it could have been so much better.

Paul (who knows about movies) has sussed my taste now. Funny is good. Clever and witty funny is better. So we strolled down to the Hackeschermarkt, and up endless stairs, to a nice little cinema playing Grand Budapest Hotel. Sounded like fun, looked gorgeous, started well. The superb Tilda Swinton as a fated German zillionairess makes you unsure whether to laugh or cry. But that was a little the film’s problem: it seemed not to be able to make up its mind whether to be slapstick-burlesque, real comedy, or sometimes a little serious. The best humorous set-pieces were really good (the gondola to the monastery, the mafia of concierges), even the slapstick ski-chase and the burlesque gun battle on the hotel top floor were fair enough fun, if hardly original … but the flavour kept changing – chocolate, vanilla, lime – and when the few characters who weren’t two dimensional parodies got real … well, you waited for the punch line, which didn’t come. No joey-joey.
I think – no I’m sure – that another problem was the casting. Monsieur Georges, the irresistible concierge of the hotel – a Cowardesque Sebastian from Nude with Violin – should dominate the film. He gets plenty of chances. Ralph Fiennes was very competent in the part, very enjoyable: but he didn’t shine forth as magnetically as I wanted and needed him to.
The other ‘real’ characters really rather outshone him: the wonderful Tony Revolori as Georges’s protégé Zero was for me the star of the show, with his understated comedy and real warmth, aided by the charming Saoirse Ronan as his Agatha. Their escape scene with the all-important picture and will was a really delightful section of the film.
And a word here for Giselda Volodi who was terrifyingly touching as ‘Serge’s sister’, until she lost her head in what seemed to me like a parody of Tarantino.

I love burlesque. Love it. So why did I like the comedy scenes best. Why did I find the portrayal of the matricide Dimitri so terribly coarse-acting. I suppose 'faggot' and 'candy-ass' didn't help. Nor a vile accent. I’m told the actor has won an Oscar. Not for comedy, surely. (And by the way, he just vanishes from the story, what happened to him?). Why did I find his hit-man such a boring James-Bond-pilfered piece of non-acting? I was so glad when he went over the cliff. I’d have much rather kept the murdered Jewish lawyer (Jeff Goldblum), and I hoped like hell they were Jopling’s fingers that got severed in the door and another Tarantino burlesque. Alas, for me… bye, bye, Goldblum!

Was it the writing, was it the ‘obvious’ casting of the minor characters (THREE casting directors for heaven’s sake) … the whole thing didn’t, for me, quite fit together comfortably. But, like the curate’s egg, the best bits were really good: I only feel that with the material and money that were involved, the film could have been a classic.
As it was, it was a jolly afternoon in the cinema (with popcorn and red wine) which just left me feeling a wee bit frustrated at what could have been.
But that’s my fault. Once a critic and a caster … you analyse everything, watch the acting happen, instead of just sitting back and enjoying. Well, here’s the nitty gritty. After Inglorious Whatsits I promised myself I’d spare myself the cinema for the remainder of my years. After Grand Budapest Hotel … yes, I’ll go to a film again. If Paul chooses carefully!

But … curtain down and I had a real treat in store. A few doors down from the Kino, nestled in a back courtyard, at 38 Rosenthaler Strasse,  is the restaurant Panasia. A bite to eat before the stroll home?  What we had is worthy of a much greater name than ‘a bite to eat’ … it was marvellous food, and this time I can find nothing to criticise.
I’m not knowledgeable about the ins and outs of Japanese/Thai cuisine (though I know I don’t like sushi), but this was delightful!  We started with Thai margaritas. Only complaint: too small, but they lasted the meal so …  then little crackers with beetroot and trimmings (yum!), steaming won-tons with super-tasty herby sauces, crisp asparagus, spicy chicken boulets, a mint and herb salad … all accompanied by a powerful ginger tea … a real festival of flavours …
Next time I shall go to Hackeschermarkt for the food, and the film will be an incidental!

Home through the puddles and the pretty streets of Berlin, happy people eating, drinking, laughing – a short stop at dear old Bötzow-Privat for a nightcap … and I, who am usually in bed at nine, ended up sitting up, brain and taste-buds ablaze till 1am … oh Lord, and it’s the opera today!

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