THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL: Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Willem Dafoe, F. Murray Abraham, and Jude Law. Directed by Wes Anderson. Rated M (Violence, sexual references, nudity, and coarse language). 100 min.
This is a British-German comedy-drama film, inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig, including his "Beware of Pity" (1939) and "World of Yesterday" (1942). The plot focuses on Monsieur Gustave H., the concierge of an European luxury hotel who is framed for the murder of one of the hotel's guests. It is set just prior to World War II in a fictional European country called Zubrowka ("once the seat of an Empire"), which is ravaged by war and poverty.
In contrast with its hey-day, the hotel is in a poor state of repair, and following the war only a few guests want to stay in it. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), the concierge of the past, had trained a lobby boy, Zero (Tony Revolori), who became his trusted friend, and Zero, now an old man (F. Murray Abraham), recounts his story to a young writer (Jude Law), called "The Author", who visits the hotel in 1968.
Back in the Hotel's golden era, Gustave, saw it as part of his duties to romantically court ageing women staying at the hotel for their pleasure and his. One of the ladies, Madame D (Tilda Swinton), on her 19th. consecutive visit, dies in suspicious circumstances after leaving the hotel. Gustave goes to her and learns at the reading of her will that she bequeathed him a very valuable painting, "Boy with Apple". Shortly afterwards, he is arrested and imprisoned for her murder. Zero helps Gustave escape from prison and he teams up with his girlfriend, Agatha (Saoirse Ronan), a patisserie cook in the hotel, to try to establish Gustave's innocence. Proof is forthcoming when a "second copy of a second will" is discovered hidden in the painting, and it comes into effect if Madame D is ever found to be murdered. The film's gang-land adventure tale is reinforced by the presence of colourful characters like tough-looking convicts (Harvey Keitel being one of them) and a sinister assassin (Willem Dafoe). The plot reflects the antics of those who do what they can to either help Gustave cope with his misfortunes, or get access to "Boy with Apple", and Madame D's wealth, at any cost.
It is part of the eccentricity of this movie that you never actually find out who killed Madame D, but that really doesn't matter. On the way through, one is exposed to marvellous characters, as well as compelling social commentary on the tragedies that affected people in wartime. The story is told in flashback by an ageing Zero, who wants to remember his lost master, his past love, and a hotel which has known better times. It is all contained in the chapters in a book written by "The Author".
Wes Anderson is an outstanding director, who communicates the film's plot in a whimsical, and thoroughly eccentric way. In "Moonrise Kingdom" (2012), he patterned his images by presenting his characters as miniatures in a doll house (see this website for review). In this movie, he adopts the device of organising images in terms of chapter headings in a book. Every scene is patterned in some way, and there is an over-riding structure to the film that is very creative. Vibrant colours accompany Anderson's quirky visual style, and the film's images are typically detailed and formally precise.
This is a film that integrates its social comment effectively into its visual environment. Anderson has a great cast to help him do this, and he arranges his actors to match the environment he has created. Fiennes is wonderful in the role of Gustave. He "sustains the illusion with a marvellous grace", and delivers his lines with excellent comic timing. Beneath the opulence and glamour of The Grand Budapest Hotel, however, fascism and dark events lurk. The movie has a sad undertone that sneaks up on you as you laugh at what happens to its characters. The script is witty and sharp, but the film's nostalgic excursion into war-time history makes it seriously reflective.
The movie is very well crafted and highly unconventional. It is like a frosted piece of confectionary that has an inviting look up top, and a solid centre much nearer to its heart. The surface of the film is zany comedy, but deep down it offers melancholic reflection, and the two layers are held together delightfully by a Director, who is very sure of his hand.
Peter W Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Twentieth Century Fox
Released April 10th., 2014