Wes Anderson remains as divisive as ever with his latest film The Grand Budapest Hotel. Some can’t abide idiosyncratic, surreal, playfully arch style. Others think he is a genius. Personally, I enjoy most of his films. As for this one, I need to see it a second time, but based on one viewing I’d say it stands a good chance of toppling Moonrise Kingdom as my favourite Wes Anderson picture.
At the centre of the film lies a stunning comic performance from Ralph Fiennes as Gustave H, concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel; a plush, 1930s, art-décor establishment situated up a mountainside in the fictional Eastern European country of Zubrowka. He is surrounded by a quite brilliant cast that includes F Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Owen Wilson, Lea Seydoux and Tom Wilkinson. The film also introduces the wonderful Tony Revolori, whose Lobby Boy character Zero is taken under Gustave’s wing. Their relationship is at the heart of the story.
Quite honestly, The Grand Budapest Hotel is so densely plotted that I’d be foolish to attempt to explain it. Suffice to say, it contains a certain amount of flashing back and forth in timelines, an art heist, a murder mystery, a romance, and the threat of impending war amid all the chaotic and frequently hilarious action. The usual Anderson deadpan, offbeat humour is present and correct, and at times it is quite dark. But there are also surprisingly touching undercurrents in the odd couple relationship between Zero and Gustave, as well as in many of the subplots. The film is stunning to look at too. A triumph of production design and stylish direction, Anderson gives the film an almost fairy tale quality, and even has fun switching aspect ratios from time to time. He also references a lot of cinema history, including Melies, the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup, Blake Edwards’ Pink Panther movies, and even recent serious films such as The Lives of Others.
Despite the quirky, hermetically sealed nature of Anderson’s world, there are moments of insight into the human condition that are all too easy to identify with here. Gustave may be as flawed, needy and self-obsessed as the elderly women he seduces, but he is, at heart, a decent man despairing of a world sliding into militaristic tyranny. His kindness to Zero in particular, as well as his dignified, quiet disdain in the face of thuggish fascism is understated but unexpectedly poignant.
There is just enough swearing, sexual content and violence to warrant a warning for those that would appreciate one, but quite honestly it’s hard to imagine anyone getting too offended by this. The characters are so much fun to be with that by the time the end credits rolled I found that I would genuinely miss being in their company.