Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel is a delightful treat, a delicious confection to be savored from beginning to end, and preferably as many times as possible, as I intend to see this movie several more times in order to feed my new addiction. His best film since The Royal Tenenbaums, never has the director's acute and specific sensibilities been more perfectly suited to the subject matter and setting- this just may be the quintessential Wes Anderson film.
Set up by an impossibly precious framing device that sets up a "story within a story within a story," we get Tom Wilkinson as an old author relaying the details of the time that he, as a young writer (Jude Law) visited the hotel in question and came upon the owner (F. Murray Abraham), who in turn relayed the story of the hotel itself to him verbally. This takes us all the way back to 1932, when Abraham was a teenage refugee (newcomer Tony Revelori) who was employed by the hotel as a lobby boy known to the Grand Budapest's concierge, Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) as Zero Moustafa. Gustave is the kind of hotel manager of a bygone age, the somewhat fanciful type who might nowadays be labeled a "metrosexual," and spends his time catering to the "needs" of the hotel's clientele (mostly octegenarian old ladies with lots of money lying around to spend on those who fulfill their latent sexual desires).
Gustave trains the boy as his assistant and the two get caught up in a mystery concerning the sudden death of one particular old lady (played in some astounding old woman makeup by Tilda Swinton) and the will she's bequeathed, which is sought after by some very malicious and jealous relatives. Set in a fictional European republic, the whole film is nostalgic for the bygone era Fiennes' Gustave represents, and takes pains to recreate it through Wes Anderson's usual artificial touches. The art direction is superb in this movie, every set seems lifted out of a storybook, and the period setting greatly enhances the busyness of the world onscreen, which is even more filled with delightful goodies around every corner than a typical Anderson movie (which is plentiful enough, as you know). All of the action taking place in the 1930's is filmed in a 1:37 aspect ratio, reminiscent of course of the Old Hollywood era and bringing to mind films like Grand Hotel and The Shop Around the Corner, the light comedy and grace of which is recalled here many times over. The fullscreen ratio also turns out to be entirely suitable for the meticulous framing shots of a director like Anderson, whose composition is so tightly controlled and calls attention to itself in every scene.
Ralph Fiennes is invaluable as the concierge, and he brings a comedic lightness and sly tongue in cheek quality to the role that befits the tone and makes him one of the most memorable characters in any Wes Anderson film to date. Sometimes actors in Anderson's films can be monotone and dry, seemingly at the director's behest, but here Fiennes is a bundle of sparkling charismatic energy, who seems to understand exactly what this character and film was calling for, and if there's any justice he'll be remembered at Oscar time for this performance (which is highly unlikely I know, seeing as it's only April). The rest of the cast fizzles too, with appearances by Adrien Brody and Willem Dafoe in villainous turns along with the usual stock company of Wes Anderson actors (Bill Murray,Jason Schwartzman, Edward Norton). Everyone seems to want to be part of the fun and it's not hard to see why- I myself wanted to dip into the screen and take part in this zany salute to Old Hollywood with a Wes Anderson spin, yet the film also holds a hint of danger and tragedy creeping in from the pre-war outside world, a world which most Anderson films seem entirely cut off from. Grand Budapest is entirely unique, yet fittingly nostalgic all at once- I can't wait to see it again.
* * * 1/2