The Grand Budapest Hotel (dir. Wes Anderson, 2014) – Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, goes on an adventure with Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend.
The most singular and bracing adventure, The Grand Budapest Hotel deserves to linger like strong-scented perfume.
Every building has a story. The Grand Budapest Hotel is no different. Those adventures behind its soft pink walls may have been forgotten, if the Author had not met Zero Moustafa by virtue of his congenital curiosity.
It is there in Zero’s memory as a young lobby boy (newcomer Tony Revolori) that we meet the famed concierge Mr Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), a man of unmatched genteel nature and incidentally a great lust spurred by odd taste. The unlikely pair becomes fast friends in their tangled path to unriddle a murder mystery.
Told by Moustafa and retold by the Author – the layered Russian nesting doll of an introduction is a clever device that both deeply immerses the audience in poignant nostalgia, and presents some unreliable narrators behind its mild hint of fib.
Ebbing and flowing between the real and surreal is writer-director Wes Anderson on his first solo screenplay. Though he admits drawing inspiration from writer Stefan Zweig for the underlying memoir, the raconteur’s idiosyncratic visions once again paint an extraordinary universe that is emphatically his own.
Through his lens, the backdrop of war has never been quite as quixotic. The dark humour and uncharacteristic intemperate violence may stand out as different strokes from his earlier works, but he retains his usual hint of whimsy in every detail.
Pastel palettes, peculiar props, miniature models and almost tangible sentimentality – it is a world that stands quaint and bright by design. In fact, it is almost too light and vivid for its bleak, sombre subjects of murder and war.
How admirable that his stylised fantasy filter never once adulterate the unsmiling nature of its historical milieu. Never has a film set between the wars been so utterly extraordinary in its visuals and outlandish in its laughs, yet grounded in its telling. Self-awareness of its absurdity keeps it from meandering past the heart of the story – the characters.
Bringing them to life is an eclectic band of actors with tremendous talent. The cast includes Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Saoirse Ronan, Jeff Goldblum, and Tilda Swinton (pictured above) in that order of recognisability under fashion and cosmetics.
Far from farce, their larger-than-life portrayals instead offer a unique lens through which humanity is magnified. There is a profundity in the dialogue that exposes the psychological workings of the eccentric characters, who are often as inwardly tragic as they are outwardly comic.
As with all guests at Wes Anderson’s mind lobby, they begin alone. With time, they cross paths with the unexpected visitors, who conceives a wondrous purpose that complete their journeys. Through that beautifully crafted affinity, we get to explore one of Anderson’s most affectingly genuine stories about friendship, relationships and kinship that need not find their bond in blood.