The Mad Fantasies of Grand Budapest Hotel
By Skip Sheffield
Wes Anderson lives in some kind of parallel, crazy, beautiful universe.
His latest fantasy is “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” and it is his grandest vision to date.
Even more than “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” Anderson’s surrealistic take on Jacques Cousteau, “Grand Budapest Hotel” is a strange and wonderful creation, filled with one-off characters that seem vaguely familiar yet distinctly artificial.
The pink wedding cake hotel of the title is obviously not real, but enchanting just the same. The story begins in 1932 in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka- not Hungary- in mountains that look vaguely like the Alps.
At the center of the story, inspired by Viennese author Stefan Zweig and fleshed out by writer-director Wes Anderson, is a prissy, fastidious and somewhat androgynous concierge named M. Gustave H.
This role is perfect for Ralph Fiennes, a delicate-featured actor who can be effeminate, manly, refined and sexy all in the same character.
Gustave, a “most liberally perfumed man,” is a by-the-books perfectionist at the complete service of his oddball guests- especially the wealthy older women he often seduces.
Gustave’s boy Friday is a novice Lobby Boy named Zero (wide-eyed newcomer Tony Revolori). Zero has zero education and zero family, but he is eager to please.
Plot is the least important part of “Grand Budapest Hotel,” but the main device is the theft of a priceless painting called “Boy with Apple.” The painting had been owned by dowager and hotel guest Madame D (Tilda Swinton), who expires with a hotly-contested will.
The large cast of characters is familiar to Wes Anderson fans, because most of them have been in his previous seven films. F. Murray Abraham is the mysterious hotel owner Mr. Moustafa. Adrien Brody is the weasely Dmitri. Willem Dafoe is the violent, dangerous Jopling. Jeff Goldblum is the officious Deputy Kovacs. With shaved head, Harvey Keitel is a tattooed inmate known as Kovacs. Edward Norton is Police Inspector Henckls and Bill Murray makes the most of a brief appearance as M. Ivan.
New to the Anderson ensemble is Saoirse Ronan, baker of the delectable pastries that figure prominently in the plot and a love prospect for Zero.
There is a little bit of everything: a tense stalking scene, an intricate prison break, chases, a runaway sled, a crowded, noisy gunfight and a funicular that provides the only transportation to the hotel, yet looks like a child’s toy.
“Grand Budapest Hotel” is heavy with nostalgia and movies of the 1930s. It had a special resonance for me, because much of the first seven years of my life was spent in grand hotels and resorts not unlike the Budapest. Seeing “Grand Hotel Budapest” was like awaking to a dream sad and sweet, accompanied by an indescribable sense of loss.