Movies

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel featured image

grandbudapesthotel
Wes Anderson, director and co-script w/Hugo Guinness

Starring: Ralph Fiennes (M. Gustave H.), Tony Revolori (young Zero Moustafa), F. Murray Abraham (old Zero), Saorise “Sirsha” Ronan (Agatha), Mathieu Amalric (Serge X.), Adrien Brody (Dimitri Desgolfe-und-Taxis), Willem Dafoe (J.G. Jopling), Jeff Goldblum (Deputy Kovacs), Jude Law (young writer), Harvey Keitel (Ludwig), Bill Murray (M. Ivan), Edward Norton (Inspector Henckels), Lea Seydoux (Clotilde), Jason Schwartzman (M. Jean), Tilda Swinton (Madame D.), Tom Wilkinson (Author), Owen Wilson (M. Chuck), Bob Balaban (M. Martin)

The hype
A new film by Wes Anderson, the director of Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom is bound to raise a fuss. His whimsical, highly literate tales garner raves from the public and attracts a growing niche audience. Here he’s brought back a contingent of Anderson rep company members including Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Bob Balaban and Jason Schwartzman. Add to that a fantastical plot, filled with hyperbole and cunning phrases, great set designs and a period ‘30s style pastiche score and you have all the elements that will attract Anderson’s “posse.”

The premise
Set in the mythical Central European Republic of Zubrowka between the two World Wars, this is the outlandish tale of how a lobby boy named Zero Moustapha gained possession of the Grand Budapest Hotel. Told in flashbacks, in which the aged Zero recounts his story to a young and Romantic writer, we hear of how the young boy was mentored by a certain Gustave F., the legendary concierge of the hotel during  its last vestiges of glory.

Gustave, it transpires, was a bisexual rogue, who romanced ancient royal ladies and sometimes benefitted from their largesse in wills. When Madame D. dies, leaving Gustave with a highly valued painting, the son and heir Dmitri and his heartless colleague and assassin J.G. Jopling will stop at nothing to keep the work of art.

When Gustave and Zero steal the painting, the game is truly afoot. Cruel murders, imprisonment, tools secreted in confectionaries, romance, train rides, a vast conspiracy of international hotel concierges, a funicular, midnight assignations, mountain top monasteries and secret letters all form part of a tale that should be seen and not logically recounted.

The analysis
Wes Anderson has dedicated this film to the writings of Stefan Zweig, the Austrian Jewish man of letters who created stylish, often light and romantic tales that evoked the defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire and nostalgia for the cosmopolitan traditions of 19th century Europe. He’s succeeded in doing so to an astonishing extent.

The film is witty, the characters gossamer thin and the sets elaborate and gorgeous. Ralph Fiennes, given the chance to play comedy, is brilliant as Gustave and Anderson’s strolling players are up for their comic set pieces. If you love classic Hollywood cinema—in particular the films of Ernst Lubitsch (Ninotchka, The Merry Widow, The Shop Around the Corner) and Max Ophuls (The Earrings of Madame D, Letter from an Unknown Woman)—and light Strauss operas (one of which has a libretto by Zweig), you’ll enjoy The Grand Budapest Hotel.

The skinny
Anderson’s film is truly intended for a niche audience—and I’m one of the members. This gently nostalgic pastiche is well cast, designed, written and directed. But it’s not funny enough to be a true comedy and it’s not really a satire. It is a wonderful Wes Anderson film. Will that be enough? For members of the Classical 96 audience, probably yes. For others—well, you have to think that things really were better before that darned assassination in Sarajevo. And how many people think that anymore?

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