The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson does it again! The Grand Budapest Hotelis as quirky as film as any, and stuffed full of wit and humour, all delivered by a fine ensemble cast of Anderson favourites (Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson, Bob Balaban, Jason Schwatrzman, with the addition of a hugely camp, as-you-have-never-seen-him-before Ralph Fiennes.  I had no idea he could play comedy, and how.

From the get-go, we are drawn into the film by the older writer (Tom Wilkinson, loosely playing Stefan Zweig, who was a friend of my illustrious grandfather Hermann Ungar in the 1920s, but that’s another story), looking back on his career. His younger self (Jude Law) checks in to the Grand Budapest, well-past its glory days, but still offering respite from the outside world. In a scene in the steam baths, he encounters the owner, Zero Mustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who tells him the story of the lobby boy who became the owner, over a long dinner in an empty dining hall.

As in all Anderson films, the plot is not the point, but nevertheless there is a strong storyline here, involving the death of Madame D (Swinton), her disputed will and her villainous son (Adrien Brody resembling nothing other than Dick Dastardly), a stolen painting and the attempts of Gustave H (Fiennes), the legendary concierge of the Budapest, who loves all his ladies – they have to be blonde and elderly, after all who likes a fresh steak? – to clear his name. It is a caper on epic scale, with Keystone Cops-style chases over the snow, and archly delivered lines reminiscent of the Ealing Comedies and Alec Guinness; in fact I think that’s where Fiennes is headed – a serious actor who can turn his hand to anything and become the darling of British stage and screen.

There are stars a-plenty studding this toy theatre screen of a set: Ed Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Saoirse Ronan, Mathieu Amalric – all with tiny cameo roles, all doing it because they love the sheer inventiveness and kookiness of Anderson, here gently poking fun at the antics of eastern Europe between wars, and the chaos of those times. It doesn’t matter whose in charge, soldiers are always thugs.

The direction is super-tight, the sets splendid, the cinematography quite brilliant. I loved the little funicular railway that plies its way up and down to the hotel; the screen shots are all beautifully cropped and composed, making each little scene a set piece of theatrical quality; the winter Olympic ski/toboggan chase is a little mickey-take of the genre; Tilda Swinton’s make-up is quite extraordinary, how can such a fair maid look so old and ugly? Anderson said it is the only thing he spent big money on in this film. And the script! Zinging with raised eyebrows, asides, and ‘dear boys’. It’s so Noel Coward, so camp and so outrageous.

Anderson is able to perfect character development in his films; every walk-on part, no matter how small, has a purpose and a personality. I simply adored the double act between Fiennes and the young Zero (‘introducing’ Tony Revolori), who was both canny and cute.I loved The Life Aquatic, which many critics thought was a bit too weird,  RushmoreThe Royal TennenbaumsThe Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom, so this film is a shoe-in for me. Wes Anderson, you only get better.

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