This is, perhaps, the most meticulously constructed film that Wes Anderson has made. He's certainly come a long way from the early VHS days of Bottle Rocket but there is, no doubt, now a Anderson American Empirical trademark style that accompanies all his work. It is not for everyone, for sure, and this film will not convert anyone on the other side of the fence about the auteur. It does, however, tackle really deep emotional issues and humanity all within the guise of a rather fantastic yet strictly composed world. It is a film of garish screwball comedy mixed with some darker nuance that may be Anderson's best film yet.
Grand Budapest Hotel is a bit of a nesting-doll contrivance that, if you don't pay attention in the very beginning, will seem a bit off. It begins in a graveyard with a monument to a deceased author. A young woman wearing a beret (because of course she's wearing a beret in a Wes Anderson movie) holds a book with a soft pink jacket. Next layer. Further inside that scene is the author made flesh (played by Tom Wilkinson) who begins to speak about the experience of writing the book that the young woman is holding. That leads us to the younger version of said author (played by Jude Law) within the Grand Budapest's lobby questioning the concierge (Jason Schwartzmann) about the old man sitting off by himself who looks so very lonely. He just so happens to be Mr. Moustafa, owner of the hotel. Oddly enough he always sleeps in something akin to the servant's quarters when he comes to stay there. The author, curiosity aroused, inquires with the old man about how he came to own the hotel and thus our story begins.
It is apparent, right away, that this story far more than any others Wes Anderson has told, takes place in a reality that is familiar yet removed from our own. It is similar to Nabakov in a way, I suppose, in that even though the awful horror and circumstance of something like Lolita occurs it is, however, not real. This has all the trappings and flourish of anything else that Anderson has shown us before yet I found myself, hours later, reflecting on just how much he actually accomplished here. He gives a tale that is poignant, deals with tragic elements and awful violence in a landscape that is on the verge of war yet it is delivered in such a way that is far enough removed from the grimy reality of things that it is, most certainly, a fairy tale of sorts.
M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) really anchors the film. He is a man of sophistication, consistently and heavily perfumed in something known as "Eau de Panaché", and a true product of the time in which he lived. The decadence of hotels such as the Grand Budapest required such a strong presence to run the day-to-day and Gustave was easily up to the task. The mask of refinement and class, however, quickly cracks as his more exuberant and, frankly, boyish nature comes out. He is, for all his other duties, a glorified gigolos to an innumerable amount of filthy rich and, usually quite old, women who parade in and out of the hotel. His charge, however, is to train the latest lobby boy Zero Moustafa. He must know exactly what guests want and anticipate them needing it even before the think to want it. It is service to the highest degree that they both aspire to. The problems, however, begin when one of Gustave's many lovers is found dead in her burdoir (Tilda Swinton). Seems there's a conflict over the rights to a particular priceless painting and, well, things ramp up quite quickly from there.
The other list of usual Wes Anderson heavies are sprinkled throughout including Bill Murray, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldbum and Willem Dafoe (among many many others) but Tony Revolori (who plays the Moustafa the younger, Zero) really shines here. He consistently holds his own against, frankly, a superb Fiennes. Perhaps one of the best on-screen pairings to ever show up in any of his films. The eagerness and vulgarity of Gustave reflected off the seemingly moral yet flexible Zero really lifted the film, for me anyway, past some of the earlier American Empirical works.
This is a European visage that is bright, rather colorful and frankly feels almost too saccharine. The film is, thankfully, juxtaposed with sudden bursts of comic violence and a rather thoughtful examination of the various masks we wear and the toll it takes. Hotel is a movie full of broad caricature and very Anderson sorts of characters/dialogue. The constricted shots, the deft composition and hand-spun feel of it all feels very familiar but the very real nature of the emotional elements at play here works on a lot of levels.