Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Saoirse Ronan, Willem Defoe, Harvey Kietel, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Lea Seydoux, Jude Law, Adrien Brody
Running Time: 99 min
Plot: Wes Anderson’s latest charts the life and times of the extraordinarily extravagant concierge, Gustave H ,and his loyal lobby boy ,Zero, proud staffers of the Grand Budapest Hotel.
‘It’s not that I don’t like it. I am physically repulsed.’ – These stern words, spoken by Casanovian concierge Gustave H, were no doubt echoed on set by director Wes Anderson every time one of his extensive design team got something even slightly wrong; there’s not a Mendl’s ribbon or beard-bristle out of place. The Grand Budapest Hotel is 99 glorious minutes of sumptuously symmetrical plaid-perfection.
Inspired by the literature of free-thinking Austrian scholar Stefan Zweig, The Grand Budapest Hotels ‘Zubrowkan’ setting is kitsched together with a combination of folk lore, Russian revisionism and Hollywood’s Eurasian fantasy lands (e.g Duck Soup’s Freedonia). Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes) is the disarmingly flamboyant frontrunner of the Grand Budapest, the most famously decadent B&B in all Zubrowka. Soon, it’s revealed by the suave concierge’s lobby boy ,Zero (Tony Revolori), that most of the guests ‘came for him’. Madame D (Tilda Swinton) is one such infatuated client, and when she pops her ancient clogs ,she entrusts to him her entire estate. The problem? Madame D’s tantrum-prone son Dimitri (Adrien Brody) wants the lot, and he triggers a cross-country man hunt that instigates all manner of mayhem, from stolen paintings to prison breakouts to (temporarily) flying cats and beyond.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is mesmerising. Wes Anderson switches up his cinematographic style – including multiple alterations of aspect ratio – with such fluidity that you barely have time to notice, while the mind-boggling choreography alone demands repeat viewings. As did a foreign couple in the row behind at Movie Quibble’s screening, you could see the film without any grasp of the dialogue and remain spellbound throughout. Hell, you could watch it without sound altogether. Don’t though, because the score is incredible too. Alexandre Desplats disarming, whistle-worthy waltz builds into a soaring crescendo, yanking back the iron curtain to revel in its own foot-tapping Germanic giddiness.
Wes Anderson says that he only likes to work ‘with his friends’, which, if true, means his mobile ‘Contacts’ list could easily be mistaken for IMBDb’s ‘STARmeter’ page. Saoirse Ronan – speaking in her natural Irish tongue for the very first time on film – is top crust as Agatha the baker, but you can’t really single out any one of the supporting cast, because they’re all fantastic: Jeff Golblum is at his Goldblum-iest, while Willem Defoe is genuinely terrifying and Adrien Brody has a Dali moustache. Lea Seydoux also pops up to prove that she’s ‘maid’ it big time and Harvey Kietel in prison is as intense as Harvey Kietel in prison. Bill Murray’s in it too!
Ralph Fiennes has, as usual, outdone himself; his expansion into comedy is a revelation and he’s the ideal choice for the perennially perfumed Gustave H. One moment he’s dreamily reciting verse, then one whip-pan/zoom later and he’s swearing his mouth off, albeit in the most affable way imaginable. Gustave’s relationship with his protégée Zero (whose elder self narrates the film) is a source of endless humour and ever-evolving dynamics, but he’s mostly there as a sponge for Fiennes’ one-liners.
It may ditch emotional depth in favour of frantic, free-flowing dialogue and stylistic showboat-ery, but The Grand Budapest Hotel is more fantastic than Mr Fox and even usurps Moonrise Kingdom and The Royal Tenenbaums to emerge as Wes Anderson’s best film yet. You’ll laugh, you’ll (possibly) cry, and you’ll never rest your fingers in a doorway again.