Movie Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel


An author recounts the story of Zero Moustafa when he was a lobby boy in the service of concierge M. Gustave, accused of a crime and embroiled in a mystery.


Wes Anderson, 2014

A young revolutionary girl reads a book. The book’s author recalls the time he met an old man at a decrepit old hotel. The old man tells the author the story of how he came to own the Grand Budapest Hotel. It all comes back to beloved concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), an unfailingly polite gentleman and, erm, special friend to many, particularly older ladies. One such lady, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) leaves Gustave a painting in her will, embroiling him in a family-wide conspiracy and placing him in direct danger from thugs and police alike. His most loyal friend is Zero (Tony Revolori), the refugee lobby boy who works studiously under him at the hotel. Together they try to solve the mystery and save themselves from it, with the help of a secret network of concierges, a bakery worker, and a host of other interesting characters against the backdrop of a developing war.


This is a very Wes Anderson-y movie in good ways and bad. It’s a pretty enjoyable romp, with a lot of fun character work from Anderson favourites like Edward Norton and Bill Murray. The scenery is fantasy fun, from the candy colours of the grand hotel herself to the musty corridors of Madame D.’s mansion to the snowy climes wherein a madcap chase occurs. It all looks gorgeous, as his films are wont to do. The particularity of every single visual aspect of his films evokes nostalgia for worlds that never existed – in this case a wartorn Europe filled with made-up countries, incredible amounts of carefully sculpted facial hair, and metaphorical baddies. There are two train scenes where Zero, as the only non-white passenger in the carriage, becomes nervous, and these are maybe the most interesting in the film. Madame D.’s family are vicious and nasty, and the actors seem to relish their evil roles. There are some very visceral and dark, sometimes darkly comic scenes to go along with the adventuring fun. Jason Schwartzman puts on…an accent? Maybe? in his brief and seriously pointless role, but then there’s a number of pointless cameos and weird accents. These don’t distract too much from the fun and the ideas being woven together – storytelling, the ripple effect of people’s stories on others, noble acts in ignoble times. Of all Anderson’s films, this one shares the most with probably his best, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, in its sense of adventure and escapism.

Ralph Fiennes is spectacularly brilliant as the contradictory M. Gustave. He’s polite even in the worst situations, charming and funny and fey, a lower-class worker obsessed with upper-class trappings and all they represent. He is a friend to the lonely, doing favours to cultivate future returns.There is one scene in the movie where he lets the whole act drop, and it’s a disturbing one; as a beacon of a bygone era and all it represents, he unleashes a torrent of racist anger on his only real supporter, Zero. The scene morphs weirdly into a bonding moment when Gustave discovers that Zero is a refugee rather than an immigrant, as he first thought; he becomes tearfully apologetic, but only after Zero’s existence in Gustave’s country is legitimised in his mind. It’s a weird scene that sets the tone for the strangely bitter aftertaste I felt from this movie. Anderson’s films are usually about the upper class, and there’s a simultaneous lancing of that snobbery and embracing of it in this film. It’s a very strange combination, and no amount of sugar-coating can completely erase the taste of the bitter pill beneath. The almost complete lack of women in the film (of the almost 100 people in the film, 18 are women, and while Tilda Swinton and especially Saoirse Ronan did well their parts were minimal) and their skimpy roles as love interests or plot devices only strengthens that taste.

The Grand Budapest Hotel on IMDb


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