Imagine one of those old grand spa hotels from the early 1930s in an Eastern European alpine setting – a destination in its own right, busy, happening and very posh. Fast forward a few decades to faded grandeur marred by 1970s orange everywhere, near-empty, peopled just by the curious, or those on a bargain package… such is the plight of The Grand Budapest Hotel in Wes Anderson’s latest film.
What happened to the hotel? What was it like in its heyday? Framed as a story within a story within a story, Anderson tells the story of Gustave H. – the best, the most attentive hotel concierge you’ve ever seen, and the events that got him into trouble.
Ralph Fiennes is Gustave, the concierge with an attention for detail nonpareil, who keeps all his old lady clients, including an unrecognisable Tilda Swinton as Madame D. a dowager on her last legs, ‘entertained’.
The hotel has a new Lobby Boy – Zero, played by Tony Revolori, whom Gustave takes under his wing. Gustave will teach him to ‘Anticipate the needs before the needs are needed.‘
When Madame D. dies, they go on an adventure together. Against the wishes of her sons (Adrien Brody and Willem Dafoe), she had left a priceless painting to Gustave. In a moment of impulsiveness, Gustave takes the painting and runs – leaving him open to being prime suspect when it becomes clear that Madame D was murdered. A series of hilarious capers ensues as Gustave is caught, escapes, and seeks out the truth.
The look of the film is sumptuous. All the interiors are plush and lush, or dark and brooding as needed. It is always snowing in this alpine region, but it never feels cold – strange that. However, having made the wonderful stop-motion Fantastic Mr Fox (my favourite Wes Anderson film until now), the director has built in some animated sequences too – the hotel from afar is seen as a cut-out against a screen backdrop and there are trademark scenes of running characters seen in silhouette against the sky – they blend perfectly into the action. References abound too – from the police inspector’s fox head badge to scenes of long, and I mean really long, ladders. I loved all this.
Then there is the cast – I can honestly say that I can’t think of another film that has so many cameos of star quality as this one. Apart from Gustave, Zero, the nasty brothers and Jeff Goldblum as the lawyer, the other main parts are all small but lovely – Harvey Keitel’s tattooed prisoner, Ed Norton’s police inspector, Tilda Swinton possibly stand out, but they are all wonderful. All of Anderson’s usual collaborators are there, including Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman too. (Doesn’t Adrien Brody look a proper gorgeous villain with that ‘tache?)
Dominating though is Fiennes as the normally unflappable Gustave, who when flapped is totally hilarious, other times effortlessly charming, the perfect host, and always just slightly camp, darling. Revolori makes an excellent foil – although he does get cross when Gustave can’t help flirting with his girlfriend (Saiorse Ronan).
I haven’t mentioned the music yet either – lots of balalaikas – I adore balalaikas so much I’ve bought the soundtrack album. In fact I want a balalaika too!
Now I can’t wait for the book of Stefan Zweig writings that inspired the film to arrive now…
This film is vintage Anderson, quirky, quietly hilarious, brilliantly acted, and with an exceptional attention to detail. It was utterly, utterly fab, and I’d go and see it again without a doubt (if I wasn’t too busy).