If Wes Anderson remade The Great Escape I don’t think it would look dissimilar to what we get with The Grand Budapest Hotel. It’s a crime caper like no other which involves murder, art theft, mysterious letters, prison breakouts, an assassin on the loose and a dead cat. Set in the fictional eastern European state of Zubrowka, the film depicts the lives of Zero Moustafa and Gustave H, lobby boy and concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel respectively, in 1932. During this time, one of the hotel’s regular guests is murdered, the contents of her will are in dispute and Gustave is convicted. All of this with the background threat of a fascist military incursion and the threat of war. As the end credits tell us, the film channels the spirit of Austrian writer Stefan Zweig and Anderson is certainly playing with narrative techniques as we are distanced from the action through different means of storytelling. The film begins with a girl looking at a statue of an ‘author’ and opening a book entitled ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, we then see the author in question discussing what it means to be a writer and how he in turn came to write this story. We then see him in the 60s travelling to the Grand Budapest Hotel which has fallen into disrepair, where he meets the proprietor of the establishment, one Zero Moustafa. It is finally through Moustafa that we hear the thrilling story of his first experiences of the Grand Budapest in 1932.
The film’s central character is Ralph Fiennes’ utterly fabulous Gustave H whose charming nature is one of the main reasons the hotel is filled every season. He targets rich, blonde, vulnerable women. Why blonde? ‘They just always were’. Fiennes’ performance is thoroughly charismatic, and laugh out loud funny. In the face of his demeanour, the audience is reduced to one of his rich ladies and you cannot help but completely warm to him. Despite the fast paced dialogue, every word flows smoothly and surprisingly Fiennes’ comic timing is perfect. Desperately clinging onto the inane rules and order of the established Grand Budapest, a world which we are told ‘departed long before he entered it’.
Along with Fiennes the film is full of a flurry of cameos from anyone and everyone who has worked with Wes Anderson before. Bill Murray’s obligatory presence is there of course, Owen Wilson is onscreen for what feels like no time at all, and Lea Seydoux’s character appears and is gone again in the blink of an eye. Although brief, the familiar faces bring fits of joy de vivre to the film and adds, if more were needed, to the Wes Anderson touch. In contrast, newcomer Tony Revolori appears in nearly every scene. His turn as the Grand Budapest’s new lobby boy and Gustave’s protégé is central to the film and the dynamic between his deadpan watchfulness and Ralph Fiennes’ effeminate charm fuels the entire piece.
Incorporating what he learnt from the making of Fantastic Mr Fox Anderson seamlessly incorporates a similar style of animation in order to add to the fairytale feeling of The Grand Budapest Hotel. It means that the chase like nature of the whole scenarios and the incredible range of transportation taken, (train, car, motorbike, skis, sledge and cable car) feel closer to an episode of Wacky Races than Gone in 60 Seconds. Although this gives the aesthetics of the film this childlike manner, the context of the situations is by no means benign. In true Anderson style the threat of something far more sinister is masked by comedy and cartoon like visuals. As we find ourselves in Eastern Europe in 1932 with some form of militarised force slowly advancing, the detached and relentlessly optimistic nature of the main characters does not detract from the promise of future emotional trauma. Indeed something similar is already paralled in Zero’s account of the war which led him to the Grand Budapest, and although the reaction to it is decidedly funny, it is nevertheless a poignant moment. The film is filled with such moments and although laugh out loud funny from beginning to end, it does not lack in emotional content.
Thrilling, tense, romantic, The Grand Budapest Hotel ticks all of the boxes for an entertaining romp, taking tips from any of the classics of the genre. The characters are eccentric, the dialogue witty and moving at a million miles an hour and the plotlines are impossibly ridiculous. It is a curiously uplifting story and is everything we have come to expect from Wes Anderson and more.