The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Directed by Wes Anderson, U.S., 2014

It would be hard to write a history of turn of the 21st Century film without discussing the films of Wes Anderson.  His work is instantly recognizable, and the Grand Budapest Hotel is no exception.  It is also his best film since the Royal Tenenbaums (2001).

Anderson takes us to the fictional European nation of Zubrowka in the 1930’s, where the Grand Budapest Hotel sits on the top of a mountain.  It isn’t a real place of course, but rather a decadent Old Europe style hotel re-imagined in Wes Anderson fashion.  Think “Last Year at Marienbad” (1961) with more pastel colors and quirky characters.

The framing device of the film is a flashback within a flashback, as an unnamed writer (played by Jude Law in 1968 and Tom Wilkinson in 1985) writes about the time he had dinner with the Grand Budapest’s owner, Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham in 1968 and Tony Revolori in 1932). During the dinner, Zero tells the writer about how he came into possession of the hotel and why, even in its decaying 1968 condition, he still kept it in working order.

What follows is the main story.  In the early 1930’s, Zero was a refugee, and was hired at the Grand Budapest Hotel by its well regarded concierge, Mr. Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes).  If someone creates a college course on the films of Wes Anderson, Gustave H. would serve as the best example of a typical “Wes Anderson character.”  You can tell Fiennes is enjoying himself in this role too, which lends a great deal of authenticity to the performance.

I don’t want to ruin such a rich, complicated plot, so I’ll keep my summary as basic as possible.  Gustave H. is framed for the murder of his friend and lover, a wealthy, widowed, Dowager Countess.  What follows is an adventure/detective story set in the backdrop of a decaying Eastern European society.

None of Wes Anderson’s films are simple romps of whimsy, but the Grand Budapest Hotel has even darker themes than most of his films. The decline and ultimate collapse of the society that birthed the Grand Budapest Hotel sets a strong contrast to the tone of the main plot.  While the main plot is funny and sometimes ridiculous, even it is a ghost story – the bittersweet reminiscence of a lonely old man.  Overall there is a lot to chew on in this one, so if you’re looking for a thought provoking comedy I would check it out.

You might like the Grand Budapest Hotel if: You have always enjoyed Wes Anderson’s films and you want to see him at his best.

You might not like the Grand Budapest Hotel if: You’ve seen one or two Wes Anderson films and didn’t care for his style.

(c) 2014 D.G. McCabe