The Grand Budapest Hotel is easily Wes Anderson’s most adventurous and polished piece to date. Calling it a masterpiece is not too strong a statement. The attention to detail and carefully simplistic complexity of the film make it at once typically a Wes Anderson film; and a careful and loving homage to films of a bygone era. In a bold and unusual move, Anderson uses three aspect ratios to explain the three timelines, with the vast majority of the film presented in ‘Academy Ratio’ or 1.375:1.
In the present (and in 1.85:1), a typically Andersonian lanky, awkward and slightly oddly dressed girl walks into a cemetery and approaches a bronze bust of a famous author. The plinth is covered in hotel room keys. The girl begins reading from a book entitled The Grand Budapest Hotel.
It’s 1985 (still 1.85:1) and the author (Tom Wilkinson), amidst the chaos of a renovation in the room next door and his (presumably) son playing with a toy pistol, attempts to tell a story to the camera. He explains that as a writer often stories come to you, rather than you having to invent them.
It’s 1968 (in 2.35:1) and a much younger author (Jude Law) is staying at the run-down yet formerly great Grand Budapest Hotel in the fictional republic of Zubrowka atop a mountain (the hotel is only reachable by funicular carriage). In the now very much dilapidated hotel, a number of misfit lone guests reside, but they are all quite solitary and don’t fraternize. One evening, a new guest attracts the attention of the author, who enquires about his identity from the concierge, Monsieur Jean (Jason Schwartzman). The lonely yet stately looking guest is in fact the owner of the hotel, the famous Mr Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham). He approaches the author and tells him the story of how he came to own the hotel.
It’s 1932 (1.375:1) and the hotel is clearly at its peak. Heading proceedings and running this well-oiled machine is concierge Monsieur Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes). He is impeccably dressed, self-assured, in control and, like so many of Anderson’s main characters, the orchestrator of an irresistible delusion that somehow envelopes all the people around him. When he is not delivering a nightly sermon to his staff over dinner (often accompanied by a self-authored 46-or-more stanza poem), he is often wooing one of a number of elderly, rich, blonde female clients that come to the hotel just to see him. A young Zero (Tony Revolori) is taken on, for a trial period pending Monsieur Gustave’s approval, as the hotel’s Lobby Boy. One month later, one of Gustave’s lady friends, the impossibly rich Madame Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe-und-Taxis (Tilda Swinton ) dies of mysterious circumstances and Gustave (with Zero in tow) drops everything to go to the funeral. They are informed by the executor of the estate, Deputy Vilmos Kovacs (Jeff Goldblum ), that Madame D has left Gustave a priceless painting, ‘Boy with Apple’ and her family, especially her nefarious son Dmitri (Adrien Brody), are livid. With the aid of the butler, Serge X (Mathieu Amalric) the pair steal the painting and return to the hotel.
The next day Gustave is framed for the murder of Madame D, and is arrested by Inspector Albert Henckels (Edward Norton). Meanwhile Dmitri’s sadistic henchman Jopling (Willem Dafoe) is killing people in his hunt for Serge, who has disappeared and Zero has fallen in love with the charming and pure Agatha (Saoirse Ronan), a pastry chef’s assistant for the illustrious ‘Mendl’s’. Zero and Gustave must escape prison, avoid Jopling, evade Henckels and the law, find Serge and the evidence that will clear Gustave, collect then sell ‘Boy with Apple’, rendezvous with Agatha and flee to the Riviera all amidst a backdrop of impending war.
Naturally the film also features cameos from Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Owen Wilson, Waris Ahluwalia and others.
Although it sounds frightfully complex, with a near-ridiculous amount of characters, one of The Grand Budapest Hotel and Wes Anderson’s real achievements is the way in which it all seems so simple. Like his other films, even the most incidental characters are lovingly designed and dressed, and feel deep and three dimensional. Even the shortest cameos have a depth that seems as though there could have been scenes written about them. The attention to detail is replicated in every aspect of the film, from the colour palettes, set design and costumes, through to the music, editing, dialogue and special effects.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is yet another Anderson film that successfully creates nostalgia for a non-existent, highly-stylised period. The colour palettes and set designs for all four time periods are magnificent; especially the Eastern-bloc, 1968, dilapidated luxury hotel sets and, of course, the 1932 grand hotel which is at once believable and totally over-the-top. It’s clear that Anderson has spent a lot of time looking back at films like The Great Race , Chitty Chitty Bang Bang  and some classic, early –colour, highly colour-saturated adventure cinema.
The music, as always is a perfect. Anderson has once again relied on French composer Alexandre Desplat (who also did the music for Moonrise Kingdom ), who manages to blend classical sounds, mood, and sound effects into something fresh enough to at times feel almost pop-like.
The editing, like the direction and cinematography (long-time collaborator Robert Yeoman), is exact, obviously painstakingly obsessive, perfect and projects an easy relaxed sense of joy. The direction and cinematography are beyond excellent, with Anderson’s typically picture-perfect symmetry and constant book-illustration-like framing. You could easily watch the entire film paying attention to simply the framing and mise-en-scène and not be bored or disappointed.
I realise that I am gushing so I’ll cut it short, but the dialogue is crisp and funny, and across the board this film is amazing. Although I watch roughly a film per day, The Grand Budapest Hotel is easily the best thing I’ve seen in five years. It’s deceptively simple yet deceptively deep, typically bittersweet and at the same time sadder and more obviously funny than Anderson’s other films (which are all also excellent). Although Budapest (yep it has already earned a single-word moniker) may not be my favourite Wes film – who can decide between Zisou, Rushmore, Tenenbaums? (I also love Darjeeling, Moonrise, Bottle Rocket and Mr Fox but not in the same, ‘I tend to organically quote a line once every couple of days’-type way – for instance today I uttered both ‘Crooked Fucks’ and ‘O.R. they?’)…
Where was I? Oh yeah. It may not be my favourite Wes film, but it’s easily his best. It’s polished, careful, detailed, complex, funny, melancholic, nostalgic, beautiful, clearly aware of- and in love with- all cinema before it, and above all, entertaining.