Quirky with a capital Q (in the Archer font, of course), Wes Anderson’s latest is a refreshingly bold and surreal murder-mystery-comedy-drama bursting at the seams with wit, charm and vibrant performances, all rendered in a beautifully dreamlike palette of pinks, purples and greys.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” will not be the film to convert any doubters of Anderson’s style and all the hallmarks of his visionary approach to film making are very much in evidence here. The film is shot using three different aspect ratios to reflect the three significant eras within the movie, a feature which completely wrong-footed the projectionist at the Odeon where I saw it. In addition to playing with the screen shape and size, Anderson also exquisitely frames scenes to ensure the maximum possible on screen symmetry to the extent that whenever an obviously asymmetric scene is presented, it is the harbinger of death or misfortune.
The film is constructed like a Matryoshka doll, with the core 1932 narrative relayed within a conversation set in the 1980s, introduced by an author (Tom Wilkinson, whose opening narration feels very much like Charles Gray’s opening monologue to “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”) and finally bookended by a modern day mood-setting piece. It’s all handed with such clarity and visual flair that there’s no chance of confusion. In the main, the film concerns itself the fictional central European Republic of Zubrowka and the last glory days of The Grand Budapest Hotel where Monsieur Gustave H reigns supreme as the concierge par excellence. While the clouds of war loom ever more menacingly over Zubrowka, Gustave, when not attending to the needs of the hotel’s wealthy clientele or breaking in the new Lobby Boy who has been appointed, romances a series of aging blonde women who frequent the hotel specifically for his exceptional attention. When one of his wealthy paramours dies a day after leaving the hotel, Gustave is drawn into a complex and deadly web of deceit and intrigue as her family jostles for possession of her vast fortune.
Like some gentle, fantastic collision between Agatha Christie and The Nutcracker Suite, this is a poetic, beautiful and deeply imaginative film so pretty that you may be tempted to simply hang a monitor on your wall showing this film on a perpetual loop. There are moments of high comedy, tension and even some action, including a homage to a sequence from “For Your Eyes Only” (okay, it was probably a more highbrow allusion but I’ll stick with Bond because it made me chuckle). But beyond the visual mastery, this film offers pathos and genuine depth through the efforts of a cast too big to mention by name but too good not to.
Holding the whole thing together is a wonderful performance by Ralph Fiennes as M Gustave H, an effervescently charismatic and charming character with a steely belief in decency, decorum and the proper way of doing things. Tony Revolori, as his loyal Lobby Boy sidekick Zero, does brilliantly to keep up with Fiennes and enjoys a touching romance with Saoirse Ronan’s Agatha, a talented local pâtissière. While Tilda Swinton gets to do the fancy dress thing as ludicrously elderly Madame D, it’s Adrien Brody as her son Dmitri who gets to have most of the fun, flanked by his largely silent but psychotically lethal bodyguard J G Jopling (a terrifying Willem Dafoe). Tasked with bringing some kind of order to the chaos are Deputy Kovacs (Jeff Goldblum) and Inspector Henckels (Ed Norton). In the 1980’s set conversation, a much older zero is played magnificently by the great F Murray Abraham, relating his story to a young writer (Jude Law) who is the younger version of the character played by Tom Wilkinson. As you would expect, the rest of the roles are filled by a who’s who of talented character actors, clearly having the time of their life in the fantastical world created by Wes Anderson.
Delightfully idiosyncratic, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a magical and enchanting work by one of the most distinctive voices in cinema today. If you’re not partial to the eccentricity and whimsicality woven into the very DNA of this film, it may seem twee or worse, start to irritate you. If, however, it clicks for you, this movie is something close to perfection – a treat for the eyes, ears and spirit as delicious as anything conjured up in Mendl’s Bakery.