The Grand Budapest Hotel

Posted: March 14, 2014 in Film reviews
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Written and Directed by Wes Anderson. Starring Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori and an awful lot of other people!

In the early 1930s, in the fictional European Republic of Zubrowka, the Grand Budapest is a stunning mountaintop hotel that the rich and famous come from far and wide to stay at. Part of its success is down to its legendary concierge, M. Gustave H (Fiennes) a charming and urbane man who keeps the hotel running like clockwork, and a man who also enjoys romantic encounters with the older female patrons.

When one of his elderly lovers, Madame D (a heavily disguised Tilda Swinton) dies Gustave travels to her home to pay his respects, taking his young protégé the lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Revolori) with him. Once at the family home of the Desgoffe-und-Taxis he discovers that Madame D has bequeathed him the priceless painting ‘Boy with Apple’ much to the chagrin of her son, the devious Dmitri (Adrien Brody). Whilst the family squabble Gustave and Zero purloin the painting and hotfoot it back to the Grand Budapest. Unfortunately shortly afterwards Gustave is arrested for Madame D’s murder, and sent to prison.

Can Zero help his mentor escape from prison, and can the two men clear their names and return to their lives at the Grand Budapest?

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a giant, icing draped cake of a film, with layers of colourful fondant covering multiple layers of sponge, er I mean story, within. From the recurring motif of gorgeous cakes courtesy of the fictional baker Mendl, to the hotel itself, resplendent in pastel pinks looking like a giant confection, the cake analogies run throughout the film, even the snow looks like a dusting of icing.

To give you a flavour for the Matryoshka doll like nature of the film, consider the opening, where a young girl goes to visit the shrine of a respected author. We flashback to that author in his elder years, played by Tom Wilkinson, we then shift to Jude Law as the author in younger life, who meets F. Murray Abraham playing the older Zero, and only then does the story skip back to the 30s and start proper!

If I’ve made this sound like a confusing film I apologise, because in essence the story is startlingly simplistic. It’s obvious from the get go who are the heroes and who the villains, and there are no major plot twists. To labour the cake analogy (last time I promise) the layers of intricately piped icing and fondant conceal a simple jam sponge…but it’s a really nice jam sponge.

It does amaze me that Fiennes has never won an Oscar, because I’ve never seen him give less than a stellar performance, and in Gustave he once again comes up trumps. Effete, urbane, and ever so slightly camp, Gustave is part showman, part drill sergeant, the ringmaster of the Grand Budapest. Yet as strict as he is he’s also noble and kind. Unfailingly polite, even to hardened criminals or jackbooted fascists, he’s also prone to foulmouthed tirades, and Fiennes pulls the wonderful trick of making him appear shallow, whilst hinting at hidden depths within.

Newcomer Revolori has an unenviable task in forming the other half of the double act at the heart of the film, but he pulls it off splendidly, never seeming cowed by the experience of Fiennes. At times his acting is a little shaky, but even this works to his advantage given he’s playing a young and inexperienced character, and when called upon to step up he does so with aplomb.

The film is funny throughout, though the humour is often dark. Even when it’s at its blackest however, the film never fails to raise a chuckle, even if you’re wincing at the same time as laughing. There’s action and adventure and romance, and at times it almost feels like you’re watching the most surreal Bond movie ever; from an actual Bond villain in Mathieu Amalric, to Willem Defoe’s superbly hilarious/terrifying evil henchman, and a ski/toboggan chase that feels like it’s been lifted from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

If the film has a flaw it’s in its casting, which is an odd thing to say about a film full to the brim with wonderful performances, but the fact that there are so many cameos is a little distracting at times, because you’re constantly going “Ooh it’s him!” or wracking your brains to try and remember who she is, or what he was in. Special mentions to Saoirse Ronan as Zero’s love interest and an unrecognisable Jeff Goldblum, but really everyone in it is great, even if they’re only great (and in it) for 2 minutes.

The stylised, somewhat fake looking settings that makes it look like the story was filmed inside an overly elaborate cuckoo clock may not suit everyone’s tastes (though I loved them), the Nazi analogy is very obvious and sits somewhat uneasily with the rest of the film, and the ending is a little abrupt and melancholic, but on the whole (and apologies as I know I said I was done with the cake analogies) what’s most surprising about this film is how a confection this sumptuous isn’t remotely sickly, making it the worst kind of cake, the one you’d quite happily gorge yourself on for hours.

Take my advice; book yourself a room at the Grand Budapest as soon as you can.

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