Academy Awards

Film review: a trip down memory lane via The Grand Budapest Hotel

James Mottram

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 March, 2014, 11:19pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 January, 2015, 4:42pm

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Tony Revolori
Director: Wes Anderson
Category: IIB
Rating: 4/5


Wes Anderson's eighth feature film has lofty ambitions, a five-star cast and, after its appearance at the Berlin Film Festival, the Grand Jury Prize.

This is the most satisfying film Anderson has made since 2001's family saga The Royal Tenenbaums; it's an intricate tapestry of comedy and adventure, pathos and whimsy.

Set primarily in the 1930s, the action takes place in the fictional east European republic of Zubrowka, in and around the eponymous establishment, a place run with clockwork precision by the hotel's concierge, Monsieur Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes).

Like a well-plumed peacock, Gustave is a vain creature, who likes nothing better than squiring the aged female residents - including the 84-year-old Madame D (Tilda Swinton, under swathes of prosthetics).

When she dies in mysterious circumstances, Gustave liberates a priceless painting from her collection. This causes consternation among the greedy relatives, especially Madame D's son Dmitri (Adrien Brody). Gustave and his lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori) then set out on a madcap adventure where they tangle with the law, military forces and prison nasties.

Even this just scratches the surface of a story inspired equally by the writings of Austrian Stefan Zweig and films by directors such as Ernst Lubitsch and Max Ophüls. The comedy zips along at a relentless pace, and Anderson juggles a cast list featuring actors from all eras of his career.

Fiennes, whose mildly chilly air has never been overly suited to comedy, is a revelation. He sparkles as Gustave, never dropping a syllable.

If there's a gripe, it's that Anderson's storybook structure is overly elaborate, flashing forward needlessly to a '60s segment where Jude Law's author dines with F. Murray Abraham's hotel owner, who tells Gustave's story.

The film's production designer, Adam Stockhausen, excels himself, turning an old department store in Görlitz, Germany, into a vibrant working hotel splashed with primary colours. And although Anderson has often been accused of sacrificing substance for style, this time there is genuine emotion under the surface.

Anderson makes us swoon for this yesteryear without lapsing into nostalgia. The film depicts a time when Europe was glamorous and dangerous.

It has far more soul than Baz Luhrmann's cynical jazz age epic, The Great Gatsby. By comparison, Anderson's achievement is very grand indeed.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel opens on March 20