The Grand Budapest Hotel begins with the titular establishment on the last legs of its former glory. Residents there are solitary and only nod at each other in passing. A particularly lonely man (F. Murray Abraham) in the lobby piques the interest of a writer (Jude Law), who upon conversing is treated to the entrancing story of the hotel in all of its past glories.
Without question in addressing Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel the conversation begins and ends with its endlessly fascinating concierge, Gustave H. Ralph Fiennes isn't often given comedic roles, but working with Wes Anderson for the first time, the thespian fits in very well. A regal man with peculiarities that simultaneously serve the interests of the grand hotel he manages. Guests across Europe attend this institution, among them Madame D. (Tilda Swinton aged several decades), the owner of a vast fortune.
Newly hired lobby boy, Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) is still learning the day-to-day operations under the watchful and fastidious eye of Monsieur Gustave. Zero is so exceptional in remaining unseen but always ready to assist, that he becomes Gustave's trusted confidant. Through several narrative devices in the form of an unnamed writer (the younger played by Jude Law and the older played by Tom Wilkinson) and Zero (Revolori and the elder by F. Murray Abraham) Anderson recounts the trials and tribulations of Gustave's tenure during the rapidly changing landscape of Eastern Europe in the midst of war.
The item that sets the events of Grand Budapest Hotel in action is a priceless painting entitled "Boy with Apple" left to Gustave by Madame D upon her death. Madame D's estate is a grand one and her repugnant son Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and his wicked henchmen (Willem Dafoe) are dead-set on keeping her belongings in the family. Gustave's lotharian reputation among octogenarians disgusts Dmitri and he has no problems framing the concierge for murder.
Desperate to clear Gustave's name and avoid the menacing hand of the scrupuless Jopling (Dafoe) matters are made worse for Zero by the coming war in the fictitious province of Zubrowka. Zubrowka appears as a series of hand-made backdrops and miniatures with as much affection placed in every shot as one of the confectionary goods from Mindel's. Bright, vivid colors mark every swatch of clothing, speck of paint and drop of frosting. Like most American Empirical productions, Grand Budapest Hotel is a treat for the eyes.
In many ways, the homeland of these characters is an Americanized version of Europe; there are no shortage of pleasantries but modern-day slang finds its way into the dialogue along with the Old World cynicism. "You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that's what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant... oh, fuck it."
It really cannot be stated enough how entertaining Ralph Fiennes is as Gustave H. A larger than life Fiennes bounces off every cast member with such fervor and glee that it is almost impossible to not grin ear to ear. He is a whirlwind of pleasantries, but not above an obscene comment or twenty. To the delight of the audience newcomer Revolori more than holds his own against the senior thespian. Throw in Anderson's other set of regulars (Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Harvey Keitel, Edward Norton and Bill Murray) and the amount of talent on display is boggling.
Anderson has gotten stronger with each of his latest efforts, Moonrise Kingdom proving that the center of his elaborately designed films indeed have heart. There is no shortage of real, human drama onscreen, sadly there is also hiding from ugly realities either. The silver lining being that even in these ugly times, some maintain "the illusion with remarkable grace."