Five star (fan) service: The Grand Budapest Hotel review

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The Grand Budapest Hotel. Image: Fox Searchlight Pictures.
The Grand Budapest Hotel. Image: Fox Searchlight Pictures.
The Grand Budapest Hotel. Image: Fox Searchlight Pictures.

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Dir. Wes Anderson
****

The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson’s latest contribution to cinema, is a brilliant and witty comedy that treads well the line between cinematic beauty and intriguing plot. The film, set in the interwar period, follows the adventures of the legendary concierge Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes) and the lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) working at the titular hotel in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka, a central European nation. Following the death of Gustave H’s lover, the dowager Madame D (Tilda Swinton), the two become entangled in the theft and recovery of a priceless Renaissance painting, and the battle for an enormous family fortune. The film is a Wes Anderson fan’s dream, two hours of bliss from which one doesn’t want to wake up.

The Grand Budapest Hotel, as with Anderson’s previous work, is visually stunning with every scene like a piece of art framed to perfection and characteristic of his quirky style. Setting the film in three different time periods also allowed the director to play around with set designs appropriate for each period. What makes the film better than some of his previous work however is that this time around the style aspects do not overrule the intriguing plot. The feel of the film is simply marvelous, with many elements such as the inclusion of a framing narrative and the emotionally driven soundtrack, calling to mind The Royal Tenenbaums.

The film is a nostalgic look at a simpler past that is obviously fictionalised and glorified. The script is said to have been inspired by the works of Stefan Zweig, whose work informed a lot of the characters. Anderson has himself stated that the character of the author, played by Jude Law and Tom Wilkinson, vaguely represents Zweig, and that the character of Gustave H was modeled significantly on Zweig as well. As with Zweig’s writing, the film is comical but also has some serious undertones. That the story is from a book, which relates an encounter, only adds to the uncertainty of the plot, as the narrative is effectively thirdhand.

The film features Anderson’s most star-studded cast to date. The director’s usual suspects including Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson and Bill Murray make cameos, with Murray, who plays a fellow hotel concierge and a member of the Society of the Crossed Keys, an absolute delight. Anderson also casts some new collaborators that gave great performances such as Saoirse Ronan and F. Murray Abraham. His greatest new collaboration however was with Ralph Fiennes who delivered a perfect performance in every one of his scenes. It was as if the part had been written for Fiennes, who didn’t seem to be acting, but rather became Gustave H. The 17-year-old newcomer Tony Revolori delivered an entertaining performance as the lobby boy Zero, and his pairing with Fiennes was as unexpected as it was marvelous.

The Grand Budapest Hotel‘s plot is highly absurd but its witty dialogue, and wonderful performances somehow allow it to get away with it. By the end of the film there are some unresolved plotlines, but such is the mystical air of the film that it leaves the audience hanging a bit in the end while still managing to be one of the director’s most complete works to date.

The film might not be a hit for those who didn’t like Wes Anderson’s previous works. However for his fans this is a true gem. Some fans prefer Anderson’s earlier works as what they lacked in budget they more than made up in mood and witty dialogue. The Grand Budapest Hotel echoes these strengths and may therefore be the best film he has produced in many years.

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