The farthest Eastern boundary of the European continent makes the perfect landscape for a new addition to the quirky Wes Anderson canon. But more on that later. First our story.
It gains inspiration from the writings of forgotten Viennese author of the 30s and 40s Stefan Zweig. In fact, the author’s own plot device is used in this story of friendship, love, and murder. An inquisitive writer (Jude Law) from the 1960s becomes intrigued by the aging proprietor of the Grand Budapest Hotel Zero Moustaffa (F. Murray Abraham).
The rather mysterious figure is glad to tell his story and how he came to acquire the iconic hotel. And that’s where our real story begins, back in 1932, with concierge and small time celebrity M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). He is a dying breed of a man, full of culture, a bit effeminate, and known to wine and dine older patrons. He also has an immense affinity for poetry.
It was under his leadership that the young, stoic bellboy Zero got his start. What an exciting beginning it was. One of Gustave’s most faithful patrons, Madame D (Tilda Swinton), dies suddenly and he is bequeathed the priceless painting Boy with Apple.
The family of the deceased is in an uproar led by belligerent son Dmitri (Adrien Brody). Soon Gustave has become the strangest of fugitives as he is wanted for the murder of the old lady.
During that time, young love springs up and Zero meets the love of his life Agatha (Saoirse Roman), a spunky baker who returns his affection.
Now the imprisoned Gustave takes part in an escape attempt a la Le Trou except this rendition is successful to a degree. Faithful Zero meets up with his mentor, and Gustave turns to the only ones he can. The concierges from all the surrounding area. They oblige, getting the two fugitives away, but soon Dmitri’s cold-blooded assassin Jopling (Willem Dafoe) is on their tails at a local monastery.
War is imminent and back at the Grand Budapest things do not look promising. The ever fearless Agatha agrees to go fetch Boy with Apple, but she is soon spotted and pursued by the ever brutish Dmitri who tries to use his gun. That’s not a smart thing when all the rooms are full of quartered soldiers and a chaotic gunfight ensues.
In the aftermath, a second will is uncovered that makes M. Gustave the sole owner of the Grand Budapest and many other possessions that Madame D owned. In a Deja Vu moment, Gustave and Zero ride the train once again before getting boarded and questioned. Always the gentlemen, Gustave defends Zero who is targeted for his immigration status. It was in that way the story ends and returns to the young author and elderly Zero Moustaffa.
He never could bear to give up the Grand Budapest despite the toll of Communism. It’s not because of Gustave, but his dear Agatha who died only two years after. It’s his only link to the happiest times of his life.
What The Grand Budapest Hotel ends up being is an odd mix of black comedy and romantic sentiment all wrapped up in an Anderson world.
His shots are often framed symmetrically and muted pastels abound as well as scaled miniatures, creating his always distinctive mise-en-scene. He is also a fan of a smooth moving camera often involving zooms.
Anderson is obviously a student of cinema and his film at times are reminiscent to 30s fair such as Grand Hotel and The Rules of the Game. He also channels another famed Viennese Ernst Lubitsch who was a master of highbrow romantic comedies.
Hotel also boast a superb cast comprising most of Anderson’s stock company. If there’s anyone who has been in more than one of his movies, they are probably in this one, even for just an instant.
So given the normal Wes Anderson flair or eccentricities, this film is visually pleasing and quite entertaining. It is a worthy follow up to Moonrise Kingdom, darling.