A comedy drama film inspired by the writings of Austrian writer Stefan Zweig. The director and writer is Wes Anderson (Fantastic Mr Fox, The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom), and the ensemble cast features Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, F. Murray Abraham, Jude Law, Edward Norton, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton and many others.
In the present day, a teenage girl visits the monument of a nameless author in a cemetery, then begins reading his memoir. The author starts narrating from his home in 1985 and recounts his only visit to The Grand Budapest Hotel in 1968, set in the fictitious Republic of Zubrowka, and his meeting with the elderly owner of the hotel. Over dinner one evening, the owner Mr. Moustafa shares his story of how he came to acquire ownership of the once famous hotel. Further back in time, in 1932, the hotel is at the peak of its popularity while the country is on the verge of war. The first concierge of the hotel is Monsieur Gustave H., unashamedly frank and promiscuous, who provides all manner of services for his guests, especially the rich and old ladies. He embodies moral and behavioural perfection, and runs a tight ship. Gustave’s life takes a turn when one of his closest lady guests, Madame D, dies. And so begins a series of adventures for Gustave and his new lobby boy, Zero, whom he takes under his wing.
Falsely accused of murdering the old lady, chased by her sinister son Dmitri and his uproariously forbidding assassin Jopling, and the considerably gentler inspector of the Lutz Military Police, Gustave must prove his innocence with Zero’s help. The movie follows the development of their friendship, along with the imminent threat of war that shadows everything.
Visually stunning, the film is creatively shot and meticulously directed. The exquisite camera work, the attention to details, and the technical finesse make this movie a marvel in itself. The timing and structure of the story-line, with the shifts in narratives, and story within a story approach, is perfection.
There are subtle humanistic socio-political themes in the movie, which seem to critique the 19th century culture of nobility (greed) and warfare (fascism). There is also a sense of nostalgia for an older time. The juxtaposition of these themes is reflected in Gustave’s old-fashioned notions of honour contrasted by the homicidal menace of Dmitri and Jopling and the two train incidents.
The story primarily centres on the friendship of Gustave, with an undercurrent of melancholia beneath his air of confidence, optimism and cheerful wit, and Zero; his unquestioning loyalty to, inherent understanding of, and rapport with, his mentor.
The sublime performance of Ralph Fiennes as the charming and waggish concierge (“a man out of time”), with a perfect balance of gravity and lightness steals the show. He is accompanied by Toni Revolori as the wide-eyed and wonderfully earnest Zero, and a stellar ensemble cast with their straightforward and mostly deadpan acting, which adds to the humour and makes for memorable characters (with a few exceptions).
Usually all Hollywood movies which have a huge star-cast are tedious and fall flat, mostly because the actors are employed to bring weight and attention to thin, banal characters and movies. But here, the point seems to be, to simply be a part of a charming but poignant story, regardless of the role; evident in the barely there screen times of most of the actors. And that’s the beauty. You don’t care that you barely see them, because the story itself does not give it importance. The sense of reality and accessibility heightens.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is an entertaining, zany film with droll dialogues; fastidious, loving direction and filmography and a fantastic performance by Fiennes. Not much of a laugh-out-loud film, but I was chuckling through most of it. It makes you travel through a different time, and lingers with you for a while. Must watch for those who enjoy quirky movies.