Wes Anderson inhabits a world entirely of his own, where real life is amplified and sprinkled with magic dust as we’re taken on a journey into his wonderful imagination.
Anderson’s had a few wobbles recently, but The Grand Budapest Hotel is up there with his best – some would say (me) that it is his best. It’s utterly joyful despite the darkness that loiters in its shadows. It’s both hugely funny and quietly sad and never less than spell-bindingly charming.
Fittingly for a director who creates his own filmic world, The Grand Budapest Hotel is set in a fictional central European country, the Republic of Zubrowka, shortly before the Second World War (to continue the non-specific location, the encroaching Nazis are replaced by unnamed fascists).
The film is a triumph of storytelling even if the story being told is fairly slight. It begins with a girl paying homage to the statue of The Author before picking up the unnamed writer’s memoir of his visit to the Grand Budapest Hotel in the early 1960s. We are then transported back to 1982, where The Author (a stonking five minutes with the always brilliant Tom Wilkinson) is grappling with this very book.
His reminiscences take us back to the visit to the now shabby Grand Budapest Hotel that inspired the book. The once palatial hotel is now tatty and largely empty, it’s decor peeling and its stately rooms resounding with the silence of the handful of lonely, solo guests that wander wordlessly through them.
Intrigued by the hotel’s decline, The Author (who back in the 1960s looked a lot like Jude Law) meets the owner, the melancholy Zero Mustafa in the once majestic Turkish Baths and over a three course meal in the hotel’s cavernous dining room The Author – and us – learn the story of the decline of Grand Budapest Hotel as Zero takes us back to the 1930s where where we meet M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and a young Zero (played brilliantly by newcomer Tony Revolori).
Ralph Fiennes, an actor I rarely find palatable (admittedly because he’s usually playing a sadistic bastard) is absolutely wonderful as Monsieur Gustave, the fey, flawed, but big-hearted concierge, a role he performs with perfumed military precision.
He’s a standout star in a film brimming with a cast of characters. There’s Tilda Swinton as M. Gustave’s 82-year-old lover whose death throws the concierge and his new recruit, Zero (who in 1932 was a fledgling lobby boy) into the path of the silent, but deadly JG Jopling (Willem Dafoe) and a very angry Adrien Brody as her son Dmitri Desgoffe-und-Taxis. Along the way we also encounter Harvey Keitel‘s naked torso, a priceless painting, a spell in jail and, of course, Bill Murray.
Anderson flirts with whimsy, but crucially The Grand Budapest Hotel is too funny and too clever to stray into twee territory. There’s also an aura of sadness and moments of violence that imbue the film with a weightiness that its jauntiness may at first disguise.
The film is beautifully shot, the elegance and symmetry of the hotel and the snowy mountains provide plenty of scope for sweeping panoramas that are interspersed Anderson’s trademark tight facials close-ups. The smudged, muted colours give the film a nostalgic feel and the four eras we move through are largely visually interchangeable. Stories, after all, don’t have a time frame.
by Suzanne Elliott