With a cast list as long as your livery-sleeved arm, Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel is a colourful romp through the bright lights of Old Europe.
The Royal Game by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Loosely based on Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig’s Gesamtwerk, Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel is a riotous journey through the backwaters of Europe in intricate detail. If Anderson’s previous films The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom turned house, submarine, train and island into fictional worlds, here Anderson lavishes his attention for period interiors and his vibrant colour palette on a whole continent. There’s little in The Grand Budapest Hotel that can be pinned on Stefan Zweig, other than the meeting of two men and the revealing of a secret and a sheer enthusiasm for early 20th century mid-Europe. But as Anderson leads us through his merciless chain of events and his telescopic stories, The Grand Budapest Hotel is nevertheless a grand tour in glorious, scurrilous Technicolor.
A girl in the Republic of Zubrowka visits the tomb of their national hero – the author of the novel The Grand Budapest Hotel. 1985, and said author (Tom Wilkinson) is waxing literary about how he came to learn of the story of the Grand Budapest Hotel. Rewind a few years more, where the young author (Jude Law) visits the hotel and meets second-rate concierge Monsieur Jean (Jason Schwartzman) and the hotel’s owner Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham). Over dinner, Zero tells him the story of the hotel’s first concierge, Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) who took pride in looking after his guests’ every need, and most especially the female ones, as well as the elderly Madame D (Tilda SWinton). But when she suddenly dies, (or is it murder?), she leaves the artful concierge in a contested battle of will, bequeathed either a priceless painting or her entire estate, as M. Gustave becomes embroiled with his lobby boy young Zero (Tony Revolori) in a dastardly battle for his freedom and life with her son Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and his villainous sidekick Jopling (Willem Dafoe).
Divided into four timelines and five parts, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a postmodern kaleidoscope of Europeanisms – from the Old Lutz cemetery to Nebelsbald in the Sudetenwald and the bison-grass republic itself. Each period takes on a different colour, underlined by the coloured graphics that hurtle across the bottom of the screen – from the pinks of the Belle Époque to the orange of the faded Seventies socialist chic. Anderson even hammers the point home with a different aspect ratio for M. Gustave’s Glorious Thirties. And while we might be on the edge of our seat (or “gespannt wie ein Flitzebogen”, if you prefer) Wes Anderson’s alpine caper spins, bounds and swoops with a singular lack of purpose. The Society of the Crossed Keys – a kind of concierge mafioso – makes for an entertaining conceit, but Anderson’s by-proxy assurances that fiction writing isn’t so much the result of inspiration and carefully collected anecdotes as the retelling of a good story is somewhat ingenuous, The Grand Budapest Hotel so fantastic it can only spring from Anderson’s clockwork brain.
With actors from all over the world (the US, The UK, France, Germany and Ireland) there’s a Babel of accents in Wes Anderson’s fictional Eastern bloc Republic of Zubrowka. And it’s hard to believe, with the director’s obsessive attention to detail in props, sets, costumes and script that Anderson simply doesn’t care. But it’s perhaps the necessary outcome of a global cast in which more than one Oscar or Cannes winner is reduced to a minor bit-part – Saiorse Ronan, Léa Seydoux and Mathieu Amalric are shrifted particularly shortly. Only Fiennes and Revolori escape from the chorus line of the ensemble cast – the debonair concierge and his hapless lobby boy carrying the telescopic matroshka of stories as they race from one set-piece to the next. And like the intricate escape from prison, it’s an enjoyable ride on mountain elevators, antiquated trams and unfeasibly steep funiculars.
Instead, nothing matters more in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel than the wealth of delicious detail. If it’s not overhead shots over patterned rugs, or close-ups of signs and shopfronts, it’s an (unnecessary) intricate escape from prison through sewers, guards’ rooms, down lengthy ladders, rope ladders and steam vents. Like the stop-motion animation of a ski-chase in miniatures, it’s a fun ride up, down, over and round, but occasionally like his garrulous hero Monsieur Gustave, who breaks off his honeyed soliloquy with an exasperated expletive, the hyperactive Anderson too seems to succumb to boredom – his cartoon allusions to Nazism lost in a wonderland of delicately twirled moustaches and puffy ageing aesthetics. Like a kid in a sweetshop, Anderson gives us a bit of everything in his own unique style. Except perhaps for some Zweigian gravitas or some deeper meaning – it’s a fairground ride through a make-believe Europe that burns twice as bright but half as long.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is released on 7th March 2014 in the UK