Reading some incredible background on Stefan Zweig (1881-1942), the Viennese author credited with inspiring director Wes Anderson’s creative, lunatical and intelligent “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” I was for a second skeptical.
Did Anderson slip this bio into Wikipedia? You see, I had just been happily immersed in the auteur’s wildly imaginative, multi-pronged satire, and wondered if I were still in the grips of his artistic spoofery.
If you’ve become enamored of Mr. Anderson’s works (“The Royal Tenenbaums”- 2001) and await each new creation with anticipation, this latest offering from the Dr. Seuss of haute cinema for adults will not disappoint. It winningly recounts the fast friendship that evolves between Ralph Fiennes’s Gustave H., concierge extraordinaire at the title hotel, and the lobby boy, Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), he takes under his wing. Madcap adventure and intrigue team with a historically astute parody of politics and government.
Welcome to Europe betweenthe wars…specifically, an enchanting yet haunting, mythologized Eastern Europe, dripping with the grandeur of yesteryear’s titles and wealth. There, catering to the whims, decadence, power and frailties of those stuck in their gilded time capsules, Monsieur Gustave keeps alive an era that was gone long before his birth. More than his raison d’etre, it is the be all, end all…a profound dedication to an ideal, the purpose of which is wonderfully beside the point.
It only figures that he’d like his life’s work and legacy to endure. So, when the extremely capable young Zero presents himself as a willing pupil, the mentor-prodigy relationship begins to flower. And when it is tossed into a dramatic crucible of multifarious challenges, it grows into a camaraderie of Kiplingesque proportions.
The first imbroglio, seemingly innocent at first, occurs when a wealthy dowager (Tilda Swinton), quite fond of M. Gustave, passes on and bequeaths him a virtually priceless painting. This doesn’t sit well with those jealous and greedy powers that be, and before long, suspected of the old girl’s murder, the concierge and his lobby boy are on the lam. On their tail are the authorities, as well as Dmitri (Adrien Brody), the scurrilous son of the deceased, aided by dastardly Jopling (Willem Dafoe), his blackguardly confederate.
Just to complicate matters and provide venue and landscape for what is probably Mr. Anderson’s most profound commentary, the master and his disciple also must try to sidestep the stirrings of war…soldiers amassing on borders, trains being stopped…that sort of stuff. Eerily ironic, at this writing the filmmaker’s thoughts about the swagger, whim and brutalism nation states engage in is regrettably being validated in the Ukraine.
Picking up where Chaplin left off in “The Great Dictator” (1940), Anderson earns a mention in the same breath, fashioning keen jibes, diatribes and lamentations about a world political consciousness that has advanced only its canniness since Biblical times. Whereas the Little Tramp’s Nazi look-a-likes used a dual-X insignia to mock the swastika, Anderson goes with a lightning bolt logo, a la storm troopers. We get the gist.
In any case, the chase is on as our intrepid protagonists must traverse the countryside to preserve life and limb while also attempting to exonerate themselves of all guilt. Here, adding a jolt of adrenalin to the doings and going out on a daring limb, Anderson melds the zany with the brainy. The helter-skelter scenes of hot pursuit over often snow-covered hill and dale sing a paean to the exaggerated thrills and spills of the silent era while amusingly complementing the cerebral nuttiness.
The grand result is a veritable comic buffet, its offerings smartly arranged with elegant whimsy. Anderson, exuding the dexterity of an all-star slugger taking batting practice, effortlessly sprays the big screen with a well-placed assortment of humorous ideas, nuances and mental curios. A cast of recognizable players, many of them the director’s usual suspects, responds to the serio-wacky assignment with notable perception.
F. Murray Abraham is solid as the older Mr. Moustafa, who tells the tale within a tale; Jeff Goldblum is appropriately understated as Deputy Kovacs, the hotel’s unflappable lawyer; Bill Murray is an equally reserved treat as M. Ivan, head of the concierge brotherhood that champions Gustave H.; and Saorise Ronan is eccentrically winsome as Agatha, the bakery gal with whom young Moustafa falls in love.
In a testament to director Anderson’s talent, for all the film’s cutting edge wit, it returns us to the cherished basics. We hate the bad guys. And we love the good guys, especially relative newcomer Toni Revolori as Zero Moustafa, and Ralph Fiennes, who unfolds yet another thespic leaf as Gustave H. Their splendid union beckons viewers to another time, assuring them that the finest of accommodations awaits at “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”
“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” rated R, is a Fox Searchlight Pictures release directed by Wes Anderson and stars Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori and F. Murray Abraham. Running time: 100 minutes