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The Grand Budapest Hotel: Ultimately it’s Irresistible

By Sandra Olmsted

In his latest and much anticipated film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, director Wes Anderson again uses his trademark visual style to bring this nostalgic, mostly enchanting romp to life. Although the film contains several layers of narratives, Anderson uses the visual style to keep the story straight through tricks like changing the aspect ratio for different section of the film and, of course, the various time periods look entirely different.

An aging contemporary author (Tom Wilkinson) reminisces about his stay in the Soviet-era remains of the Grand Budapest Hotel. During the visit, as a younger man played by Jude Law, he meets Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the elderly owner, who recounts how he came to own the hotel and his adventures as a lobby boy in training under the watchful eye of Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes).

The younger version of Mr. Moustafa, Zero (Tony Revolori) becomes the point of view character in the central tale about Gustave H. being accused of murder. Meanwhile, the young Zero has fallen in love with Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) an expert baker apprenticed to the bakery supplying the hotel with beautiful tortes, and who has a birthmark on her cheek shaped like the map of Mexico. While the story may sound complicated, fear not; Anderson keeps it all straight for his audience.

While most of the delights are visual, the plot twist are also interesting, and without giving away too much, the story of Gustave H and Zero begins in the Europe of the 1930s. As Zero’s apprenticeship unfolds, Gustave H. describe his intimate friendships with the elderly ladies who frequent the Grand Budapest Hotel this way: “I like them rich, old, insecure, vain, superficial and blonde.”

Then one of his favorites, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton under all that pancake make up), is murdered at her nearby estate, and Gustave rushes over with Zero in tow. Madame D.’s son, Dmitri (Adrien Brody), isn’t happy when his mother’s attorney, Deputy Kovacs (Jeff Goldblum), announces that Gustave H. inherits a valuable painting, and Dmitri, who is vaguely a Fascist, sends his henchmen, Jopling (Willem Dafoe), to kill Gustave H. and to retrieve the painting  which Gustave H. and Zero have taken. Meanwhile, the police captain, Henckels (Edward Norton) charges Gustave H. with murdering Madame D and pursues Gustave H. and Zero.

With Gustave trying to clear his name and on the run, and with Henckels and his also vaguely Fascist police force after him, the pursued pursuer structure drives this screwball caper film.  Gustave H and Zero use various means of transport, especially trains, to race across a fictitious Eastern European country.

Ralph Fiennes’ performance as the likable M. Gustave whose perfectly polished manners and dedication to serving his customers in every way makes this film work although the supporting actors aren’t slackers by any means. Particularly delightful is new comer Tony Revolori, whose portrayal of Zero, the unassuming, loyal Middle Eastern immigrant, is perfectly poised. Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Bob Balaban, and Jason Schwartzman, among others, also have small roles.

Unlike Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom and its joy of an innocent first love and looming redemption by the goodhearted people of the island, in The Grand Budapest Hotel, the too deadpan delivery of some of the films most emotional moments flattens the work. The threats of the execution for the likable Gustave H. set against looming world war, furthermore, make for a pervasive melancholy.

However, Anderson’s quirky visual style, the joyous nostalgia for the waning years of old world cosmopolitanism, the madcap caper film shaken with a twist of screwball comedy, and the story within a story within a story structure have a charm that is irresistible. The Grand Budapest Hotel, a Fox Searchlight Pictures release, is rated R for language, some sexual content and violence and runs at a breakneck speed for all of its 100 minutes. (More of Olmsted’s reviews are available at

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