Audiences who loved Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom” and “The Darjeeling Limited” are sure to be delighted by “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which, in my opinion, felt like a lovechild between the two. I was moved by a love story and enchanted by a depiction of a faraway land.
The plotline of the film is a nuanced story within a story. The inimitable tale involving a polished concierge, an unassuming lobby boy and shenanigans from a time steeped in nostalgia is transferred from those involved to a lonely hotel guest, who becomes to a celebrated author. We travel backwards through the story and get to appreciate the impact of the film’s events both when they occurred and in the context of the present.
Once we get into the bulk of the story, the framework that precedes it dissipates. We are now in the thick of class distinctions, second chances, dreams of grandeur and nightmarish greed.
Ralph Fiennes plays Monsieur Gustave H, a top-notch concierge at the Grand Budapest Hotel between the World Wars, and Tony Revolori plays Zero Moustafa, a refugee who seeks employment as a lobby boy and discovers a secret world of art, deception and adventure. Gustave hands down the tradition of hotel management to this young man and, at the same time, challenges his own conceptions of acceptable behavior.
Gustave is heavily perfumed, rigidly mannered and charmingly conversational. He is idiosyncratic but impeccable at his job. After taking pity on Zero, he involves him in his personal affairs, specifically the inheritance of a famed portrait given to him by one of his many elderly lovers.
Tilda Swinton plays the late lover in question, Madame Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe-und-Taxis (otherwise known as Madame D.) in practically unrecognizable old-age makeup. Her family, a dark cast of characters featuring Adrien Brody and Willem Dafoe, is violently against Gustave’s inheritance of the prized work of art and stops at nothing to punish him.
In the process of safeguarding the painting and the financial freedom it would provide, Gustave and Zero explore their respective romances, test the boundaries of their mortality and are forced to rebel against the strictures of European hospitality and etiquette.
Cameos from other actors typically seen in Wes Anderson’s films, like Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, add comic depth to the touching and, inevitably tragic, story.
In typical Andersonian form, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” features a distinctive palette of colors, artistry of costumes and mix of settings to suggest a fantasy-meets-reality feel. While many of the scenes looked as pastel and delicately constructed as a pastry, the pathos in each scene renders the absurdly ornate much more accessible.
Yes, the hotel seems flawless and gilded, but there are bullet holes in the marble columns. Yes, the train car looks picturesque, but it has blood on the velveteen walls. In contrast, the dialogue in some of the prison scenes makes them seem as cosmopolitan as any elite European tête-à-tête.
Even in these impossibly storybook settings, we can recognize human flaws and familiar patterns of behavior, which is what I believe cements Wes Anderson’s position as an iconic director. He fascinates audiences through his rich, elaborate detail in order to appeal both to our senses and to our hearts.
In the end, the audience moves past the immediate minutiae of the antiquated hotel with foreign values and can sense the loneliness and unexpected courage of the film’s main characters.