After picking up four Academy Awards at the Oscars 2015 – for costume design, makeup and hair, original score and production design – as well as being nominated for five other awards, including best picture, I never doubted that ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ would be a great film. Yet something had stopped me from watching this film for a long time, something in the back of my mind saying “this doesn’t look like your kinda film”. Truth be told, I only watched it because my partner wanted to, if it wasn’t for her I may never have got around to watching it. With a stellar cast and Wes Anderson’s trademark, artistic influence, I have no idea why I ever doubted this beautiful and very clever production.
The story of ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ is a complicated one, so bear with me. It’s pretty much a story within a story, and lots of stories running parallel within that story. Sure, it can get confusing, but that’s part of the fun. An unnamed young writer (Jude Law) checks in to the titular establishment, and encounters a man with an extraordinary tale, called Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham). Zero relays the events of the inter-war period, where he came to inherit said hotel from M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). Gustave was a strict, meticulous, eccentric, yet highly popular concierge, garnering respect and affection from everyone, not least his mature, blonde, female guests. When one of these admirers, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), is found dead and Gustave is named in her will as the recipient of her prized painting, he is accused of murder. There follows a great cat and mouse chase which leads Gustave and a young Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) through prison, to the tops of snowy mountains, and right back to their famed hotel.
Ralph Fiennes is absolutely fantastic, bringing a magnificent zest and wit to the lead role. He is funny, charming, rude and pretentious; all of which I mean as positives, honestly. I’ve never seen Fiennes in a role like this, but he certainly didn’t look out of his comfort zone, and this could arguably be my favourite performance from he who must not be named. All of the cameos (and there’s a lot of them) are brief but strong, with Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe and Jeff Goldblum offering excellent support. But the real star for me is Zero – played by Tony Revolori – a diminutive lobby boy with a pencilled-on moustache. The young actor was thoroughly entertaining throughout, and produced a perfect chemistry opposite Fiennes.
The winding narrative may be confusing, but it should be considered as little more than a malleable frame, to hold the whole thing ever so slightly in place by some kind of structure. The key to ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ is entertainment – delivered in abundance by a dark comedic tone and intriguing characterisations. The awards for costume and make up are deserved, but it is the production design which is the most warranted. The whole environment built around the stunning hotel is absolutely delightful, closer to an intricate painting than a film set. It all feels a little ironic, like Wes Anderson is very aware that the world he created is just too idyllic and too beautiful. Indeed, there can be no doubts as to who is behind the brushstrokes of this masterpiece; the whole production showcases Anderson’s skills perfectly, from absurdity to artistry.
In a way, this was everything I expected, in terms of the madcap plot and wonderful aesthetics. But there was so much more than I had prepared for. The entertainment value of ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ is through the roof, and this is a film I could easily watch again and again, owing to the fact that the storyline isn’t crucial to the experience. At times, like me, you could find yourself urging the film to dig in and grip you – there are some slow periods – but hold tight, that Anderson black comedy is never too far away. Lauded by audiences and critics alike, it is easy to see why this truly grand film received the praise and awards it did.
Director: Wes Anderson
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Adrien Brody, Saoirse Ronan, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, F Murray Abraham