While there he meets Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) who in turn recounts the time he spent working as a lobby boy at the hotel in 1932.
At this point, it feels like the film is giving Inception a run for its money in terms of Russian Doll storytelling, with Anderson poking fun at the whys and ways in which we tell such tales to each other (indeed it was the writings of Austrian scribe Stefan Zweig that inspired the film's script). But mercifully proceedings then settle down; the story proper revolving around the young Mustafa (newcomer Tony Revolori) and the friendship he forms with Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes).
Gustave is the concierge at The Budapest – a sprawling hotel that sits in the middle of a fictional spa town in the equally fictional country of Zubrowka – and a man of many contradictions; he believes in good manners, yet swears like a sailor; he lives by a strict code of conduct, yet sleeps with the many rich and elderly guests who stay at the hotel.
He also sees something of himself in the bright, wide-eyed, and ever-optimistic boy – who back then was simply called Zero – and so takes him under his wing, offering counsel and mentorship in exchange for the youngster’s unwavering loyalty.
And that loyalty is quickly tested when one of Gustave’s lady friends – the aging Countess of Schloss Lutz (an unrecognisable Tilda Swinton) – pops her clogs and bequeaths the priceless 'Boy with Apple' painting to Gustave, much to the annoyance of her ruthless son and presumed heir Dmitri (a darkly comic Adrien Brody).
What follows is a hugely ambitious merging of filmmaking styles and genres, with Grand Budapest combining gentle comedy with drama, murder mystery, heist caper, prison movie, romance and even horror (if only for the film’s sole feline character). Indeed at times the narrative becomes a little too complicated for its own good.
Anderson stalwarts Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson also turn up, although their appearances are little more than glorified cameos. And Willem Dafoe’s Jopling is perhaps the most memorable of the minor characters – a henchman who wears high-heeled boots and brass knuckles and acts like a cross between both Dastardly and Muttley. With vampire teeth.
But in terms of performance, The Grand Budapest Hotel belongs to Ralph Fiennes, who is note-perfect as the heavily perfumed Gustave, infusing the character with charm, humour and pathos. Indeed, the film’s best moments are those shared between his character and Zero as their working relationship turns into a friendship before developing into something quite touching and profound.
The visuals are predictably jaw-dropping, with Zubrowka brought to life in the kind of intricate detail that you’d expect from a Wes Anderson movie. Credit should go to production designer Adam Stockhausen as the beautifully realised Grand Budapest really does feel like a living, breathing hotel. And the work of costume designer Milena Canonero is also worthy of praise, with the clothing perfectly complementing the bright colours of the hotel's interior, turning the film into something of a confectionary delight for the eyes, with every frame of film feeling like it’s been crafted by a skilled painter.
Long-time Anderson cinematographer Robert Yeoman is also on fine form, whether his camera is stalking the Budapest’s lobby and corridors or trailing the characters through a hugely entertaining stop-motion ski chase.
Yet while the film is fun, fun, fun for the majority of the its run-time, the real brilliance of The Grand Budapest Hotel is the way in which Anderson’s script underpins the madness and joy with a subtle sense of sadness and melancholy.
It may be an imaginary country, but the very real threat of Fascism and Communism hangs over Zubrowka throughout the film, with the misery and tragedy that the approaching war will bring to these characters giving the film an unexpectedly serious edge.
- +Stunning visuals
- +Heartfelt story
- +Fantastic turn from Ralph Fiennes
- –Story somew