A hotel with a difference
Writer-director Wes Anderson’s imagination runs riot at The Grand Budapest Hotel (cert. 15). Visually inventive, and full of wit and occasional wisdom, the film features many of Anderson’s regular cast members in cameos but features Ralph Fiennes in the main role as concierge at the hotel that’s seen better days.
The story is told through a conversation between a guest at the hotel and an old man who, he learns, is the owner. Jude Law plays an unnamed “young writer” who meets Zero Moustafa (F Murray Abraham) and, over a meal, hears how he came by the hotel.
In flashback, Zero comes to the fictional country of Zubrowka as a teenage refugee (Tony Revolori) and is taken on as a hotel lobby boy under the tutelage of Monsieur Gustave (Fiennes). Apart from his predilection of schmoozing elderly female guests, Gustave is a model of decorum, always well presented, and uses a cologne, L’Air de Panache, which Anderson actually had a perfumer make up as gifts for the cast.
Anderson’s screenplay is inspired by stories by Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig – maybe depicted as the “young writer” and “the author” (Tom Wilkinson) – but Anderson’s off-the-wall story has behind it a background of impending war. Jewish, Zweig left Austria in 1934 as Hitler’s antiSemitism took hold, living in London then New York then Brazil, where he and his wife committed suicide in 1942 – Gustave’s attempts to stand up to authoritarian soldiers perhaps stand for some resistance to the inevitable.
One of the elderly women he charms is Madame Desgoffe-undTaxis (Tilda Swinton) but she dies soon after leaving his care. He travels to pay his respects, but the family are all waiting to hear the will, and are mortified to hear from lawyer Kovacs (Jeff Goldblum) that she has bequeathed to Gustave a valuable painting.
When it is revealed that Madame D was murdered, Gustave is accused and arrested, but not before taking and hiding the “Boy with Apple” painting. With a nod to The Shawshank Redemption, Gustave escapes a top security prison in a break led by Ludwig (Harvey Keitel) – a marvellously fanciful event, not least as Gustave and Zero debate inconsequential matters when they should be getting far away.
Madame D’s son Dmitri (Adrien Brody) sends assassin Jopling (Willem Dafoe) after Gustave and Zero. This sequence takes them to a mountain monastery in search of the only person who can offer an alibi, Madame D’s butler Serge (Mathieu Amalric), followed by a downhill chase on ice.
A decent army officer (Edward Norton) intervenes, and Gustave is aided by a succession of fellow concierges from other hotels (Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Bob Balaban, Jason Schwartzman). Zero falls in love with Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) and, even as the country descends into war, attention turns to the retrieval of the painting.
Anderson’s brilliant script is perfectly interpreted by Fiennes, an inspired combination.
Using obscenities for comic effect is cheap stuff, but it has to be said it’s done here to great effect.
Composer Alexandre Desplat, cinematographer Robert D Yeoman, and the team responsible for the marvellous sets, models, and costumes add to the overall sense of people who care about their craft. It’s Anderson’s notorious attention to detail – not much is unplanned – that really gives the film its feel, typified by one visual joke about a massive door that’s a little classic moment in a film of great moments.