The Grand Budapest Hotel (R)
Wes Anderson produces another immaculate set, full of beautifully arranged props in eye-pleasing color palettes, on which there incidentally occurs a fairy tale-like movie about pre- and post-World War II Eastern Europe in The Grand Budapest Hotel, a delightful macaron of a movie.
In a story bookended by two telescoping flashbacks, we meet Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), a top-flight concierge at the majestic Grand Budapest Hotel in a fictional country that is in or near the Alps, becomes communist after the war and comes to revere the narrator, known only as “the author” (Tom Wilkinson as an older man, Jude Law as a young man). In the 1930s, Gustave is completely devoted to the Grand Budapest and its clients. He meets their needs before they even know they need something — to include romancing the older, wealthy female clientele. One such woman, Madame D (a thoroughly disguised Tilda Swinton) even puts Gustave in her will, leaving him “Boy with Apple,” a priceless painting that her family is loath to give to some hotel employee. Madame D’s son Dmitri (Adrien Brody) even gets Gustave sent away for her murder. But Gustave learns that there is another will, one that might shed light on what led to Madame D’s demise. With the help of Zero (Tony Revolori), the Budapest’s lobby boy and Gustave’s protege, and Zero’s girlfriend Agatha (Saorise Ronan), a pastry chef with a birthmark in the shape of Mexico on her cheek, Gustave plans a jailbreak and a search for the evidence that will prove his innocence and get him back to his beloved Grand Budapest.
Meanwhile, war is looming, with Nazi-like soldiers filling the halls of the Budapest and threatening Gustave and Zero as they search for the truth about Madame D.
The soldiers, some of whom are dressed in gray and slate blue and wear wolf insignias and some of whom dress in black, suggest Germans and Russians and some other vague imperial-era army rather than explicitly being those things. Thus, even as the world of the 1930s hotel falls into war and the world of the 1950s hotel — where the story of Gustave is being told to the young author by M. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) — crumbles into a Soviet-era style of neglect, we aren’t burdened by the real-world versions of these times. Anderson creates a similar but decidedly alternate reality, one where tools can be successfully hidden in cakes and everyone always sits in a way so that everything behind and around them is symmetrically aligned.
As I said, a fairy tale. A charmingly twisted fairy tale, where a concierge sleeps with his matron clients and monks conceal secrets about a rich lady’s will, but a fairy tale nonetheless. I like Anderson’s little jewel box worlds, even if they don’t always hold up to rational explanation. And I’d argue the Grand Budapest does hold up better than many of his movies, in part because it leans in to the whimsy to create a “once upon a time” with surprising heart.
Anderson fans will enjoy the perfection of each shot, the vaguely paper-cut-style Alpine setting and quirky edits that stitch together the beautifully choreographed staging, and the cameos of Anderson regulars (Jason Schwartzman, Edward Norton, Bill Murray). But I think even non-fans, at least those who give in to the movie’s other-worldliness, will enjoy this sweet, frothy and ever so slightly melancholy confection. A
Rated R for language, some sexual content and violence. Directed by Wes Anderson, who also wrote the screenplay (story by Anderson & Hugo Guinness; inspired by the works of Stefan Zweig), The Grand Budapest Hotel is an hour and 40 minutes long and distributed by Fox Searchlight.