Wes Anderson’s new film The Grand Budapest Hotel trails the adventures of Gustave H. and Zero Moustafa, a concierge and a lobby boy, respectively at a famous European hotel. The backdrop of the story is the 1930s with the hotel located between fictional countries at war, reminiscent of Nazi Germany’s overtaking of Europe.
The plot revolves around a priceless Renaissance painting titled “Boy with Apple” and a great family inheritance. When the sole proprietor of the aforementioned riches is murdered, the movie follows the protagonists’ escpades in a tale of whodunit. The story, based on writings from Austrian novelist, Stefan Zweig, works well as a frame narrative with an older Zero Moustafa retelling his life’s story to a young writer played by Jude Law. It breaks through genre barriers including elements of an adventure film and a comedy with moments of gravity.
Anderson incites the help of several familiar faces to round out his cast. Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, and Willem Dafoe, all usual suspects in Anderson’s films, reappear, some for rather short cameos, as quirky and signature characters brought to life by the inventive director.
Ralph Fiennes as Gustave shows impeccable timing in his delivery of lines producing genuine laughs and exceptional entertainment. Tony Revolori, as younger Zero and Gustave’s protégé, complements Gustave’s whimsical personality with his serious demeanor. As the story develops, so does a romance between Zero and Agatha, another hotel employee played by Saoirse Ronan. Due to a large amount of foreshadowing and voiceovers by older Zero telling the story, the audience already had an idea of how the relationship would come to an end.
Almost immediately viewers are captured through Anderson’s gorgeous, brilliant color schemes and meticulously designed sets. The hotel unfortunately does not actually exist but was based off of several luxury hotels in Europe. The exterior shots were done using a miniature model while the interior shots were filmed in an abandoned department store in Germany.
The soundtrack stood out as typical Anderson in some ways but entirely new in others. It features original music by Alexandre Desplat, who also worked on Moonrise Kingdom and Fantastic Mr. Fox with Anderson. The harpsichord on “Concerto for Lute and Plucked Strings I. Moderato” is reminiscent of several other Anderson films but a few songs that differ would include “Last Will and Testament” featuring church organs and “Up the Stairs / Down the Hall,” which sounds like something you’d hear when opening a music box.
Overall, Grand Budapest Hotel is quintessential Anderson in that the visual elements are oozing nostalgia while oddball characters banter and bicker to create an entertaining and imaginative world that seems to come straight from Anderson’s mind. However, it is not typical for his tales to carry a serious undertone as this film skillfully does and that is what makes it Anderson’s best film yet.
*Published in Roosevelt University’s Torch, 2014.