Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Wes Anderson
Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F Murray Abraham, Matthieu Almaric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Lea Seydoux, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson, Larry Pine, Bob Balaban, Neal Huff, Fisher Stevens.
Fans of the films of idiosyncratic American filmaker Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom,
Rushmore, The Fantastic Mr Fox, etc), will find much to enjoy in his eighth feature film The Grand
Budapest Hotel which is, arguably, his best and most accessible work to date. The film is loosely
based on the writing of Austrian author and playwright Stefan Zweig, who fled the Nazi regime in
the 30s and lived in exile in Rio de Janeiro until he committed suicide in 1942.
The Grand Budapest Hotel recounts the adventures of Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), a legendary
concierge at the famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori),
the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend and loyal protege. Most of the events unfold
from the perspective of the teenaged Zero, an orphan who is a refugee from an unnamed country.
The film is set in the fictitious Eastern European country of Zubrowka in the years between the
two world wars. In 1932 the Grand Budapest Hotel was at its decadent peak. It was run with
smooth efficiency by the concierge the impeccably mannered and fastidious M Gustave H, who
ran a tight ship and attended to the guests’ every need. He would wine and dine, and even bed,
the wealthy elderly dowagers who regularly visited the hotel during the holiday season.
His favourite was the elderly countess Madame D (played by an unrecogniseable Tilda Swinton).
When she dies under mysterious circumstances, her will reveals that she has left a priceless
Renaissance painting to Gustave, much to the chagrin of her son, the greedy and ungrateful
Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and three spiteful daughters. Gustave quickly discovers that he has been
framed for Madame D’s murder. Thus sets in motion a rather convoluted plot that involves art
theft, murder, a frantic cross country chase, and even a daring prison escape.
Anderson maintains a frenetic pace throughout, and he crams a lot into the film’s brisk 100
minutes. It is genuinely laugh out loud hilarious in places. The cross country chase here recalls
the old style silent slapstick comedies of yesteryear. But the film plays out with most of Anderson’s
signature stylistic touches the droll dialogue, the still performances, and the meticulous attention
to detail. Anderson is known for the wonderfully offbeat and artificial worlds he creates, the
eccentric gallery of characters, many of whom are outcasts, his unique visual style, his sense of
whimsy, period settings, a strong sense of nostalgia, and effective use of colours and patterns.
Anderson has shot the film with his usual eye for visual compositions each scene is deliberately
framed and shot, with a distinctive colour scheme that heightens the mood and tone. He even
uses different screen ratios to reflect the various eras of the film, hence those scenes set in the
30s are shot in the old box aspect ratio of the times. The pastel coloured production design by
Adam Stockhausen, a regular collaborator with Anderson, is superb. Alexandre Desplat’s jaunty
score (particularly over the end credits) and the gorgeous cinematography from regular Robert D
Yeoman contribute enormously to Anderson’s unique and stylish vision. However, an air of
melancholy hangs over the frivolity as the film looks at the changing nature of Europe between the
wars and a hedonistic lifestyle that has ultimately disappeared.
Fiennes, who is not renowned for his comedic chops, is superb as the usually loquacious, urbane,
insouciant and unflappable M Gustave, one of Anderson’s most memorable creations. Amongst
his dry wit though he shows sparks of discomfort and occasionally swears like a trooper. But
Fienne’s light touch and comic timing is impeccable, and he shows a flair for physical comedy
here that harks back to the old style British farce of yesteryear. Newcomer Revolori is also great
as Zero, the naive young lobby boy who eventually ends up owning the hotel and overseeing it
through its decline during the Soviet regime of the 60s.
Angela Lansbury was initially cast as Madame D, but due to commitments with the stage
production of Driving Miss Daisy she had to be replaced by the much younger Swintom, who
underwent extensive makeup session to transform her into the 84 year old dowager. F Murray
Abraham lends gravitas to his role as the adult Zero; Edward Norton as Henckels, a conscientious
police officer whose role changes as war draws nearer; Willem Dafoe is menacing as a ruthless
assassin; Jeff Goldblum as Kovacks, the executor of Madame D’s estate; an unrecogniseable
Harvey Keitel as a prisoner; Saoirse Ronan (From Atonement, etc) as Zero’s first love Agatha, a
pastry shop baker with a distinctive birthmark on her cheek.
Anderson has populated the film with many of his regulars, including Bill Murray, Owen Wilson,
Bob Balaban and Jason Schwartzman in small roles, who bring the quirky characters to life.
Rounding out the rich supporting cast are Jude Law, Tom Wilkinson, and Mathieu Almaric.
Light and breezy in tone, and endlessly inventive, The Grand Budapest Hotel is quintessential
Anderson, and a constant delight from start to finish. This is one hotel you want to make a
reservation to check into as soon as possible.
Erin and I saw this last night. I LOVE Wes, and this was one of his best. Such a delight!
Sig Anderson (no relation)
“Constant delight from start to finish.” Couldn’t have put it better. This film is true cinema. Do not miss it!