Grand Budapest Hotel

Art & Culture

Given that everything is so carefully planned in a Wes Anderson film should we assume that the fact that the initials of this film make up GBH is accidental? If that acronym has the same meaning in the US, that is. It is just that sort of minute detail that makes Anderson films so enchanting/infuriating to his fans and detractor.

I am certainly a fan, though that’s not the same as being uncritical, and while I thought his previous film, Moonrise Kingdom, was marvellous, I am not absolutely sure about this one, much as I enjoyed it.

The construction of the narrative is deliberately complex. We start in 1985, when Tom Wilkinson addresses the camera, talking about how stories come to a writer, before cutting back to 1968, when the same character (now played by Jude Law) reveals how he came across the story of M. Gustave and The Grand Budapest Hotel. He is staying in the hotel when he meets the owner, M. Mustapha (F Murray Abraham) who tells the writer how he came to own the hotel, which then involves a further jump back in time to 1932, when Zero Mustapha is a novice lobby boy who is taken under the wing of the brilliant M. Gustave, the hotel;s concierge.

Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) is in complete control of the hotel, and the key to his success is his relationship with the guests, especially the older women with whom he has sex (he is bisexual, BTW). When one of his favourites dies, he and Zero head for the reading of the will, and he discovers that he has been left a very valuable painting, much to the annoyance of the old lady’s son, Dmitri (Adrian Brody), who, with the help of henchman/hitman Willem Dafoe, will stop at nothing to get rid of Gustave. Further complications are created by Zero’s love for Saoirse Ronan who works in a patisserie, by a scrupulous lawyer (Jeff Goldblum), and a decent police chief (Edward Norton). Not to mention an impending war, and numerous blink-and-you’ll -miss-them cameos by Anderson regulars such as Bill Murray and Owen Wilson.

If you’re being harsh, you’ll say that it’s much ado about nothing, since the plot is of no great consequence, apart from an excuse to include all manner of chase scenes. escapes, adventures and weird humour. Not to mention the extraordinary and wonderful design that is the hallmark of all his films. What has always made the best Anderson films stand out for me is the way he manages to find true emotion in the middle of extreme artifice, and my only reservation here is the emotional connection is never really made. The relationship between Gustave and Zero is the central engine of the film, and they have an endearing affection for and loyalty to each other. But it’s not a relationship of equals, and Gustave, wonderful creation that he is, doesn’t seem to bear any relation to any recognisable human being.

I enjoyed the film a great deal. It’s funny, beautifully designed, and full of quirks and unexpected pleasure. I am sounding a note of slight caution simply because so many film critics have been praising it to the heavens, and for me it falls a little short of his very best work.


Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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