The Grand Budapest Hotel

****1/2

Reviewed by: Stuart Crawford

Paul Schlase, Tony Revolori, Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes in Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel
"An emotionally engaging tale that sucks you in with its gentle humour and melancholy."

The world can be neatly divided into Wes Anderson fans and people who ought to stop wasting my oxygen. His style may be something of an acquired taste, but it's rich and delicious and I demand that you keep trying it. You can thank me later.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is framed by several layers of narration. A young woman opens a book; that book's author expounds briefly on the genesis of stories; a younger version of that author (played by Jude Law) encounters aging hotelier Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) in the eponymous hotel, and as that hotelier recounts his life story the tale begins in earnest. Each stratum of diegesis has its own aspect ratio, drawing us back in time until we land in the interbellum Mitteleuropa where the heart of the story unfolds.

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Moustafa, at this point a humble lobby boy who goes by the name of Zero (Tony Revolori), is taken under the wing of expert concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), who effortlessly juggles the multitudinous tasks of hotel management whilst seducing the wealthy, elderly women who constitute much of the Grand Budapest's regular clientele. When one such conquest, Madame D., (a nigh-unrecognisable Tilda Swinton) dies unexpectedly, the plot hits the fan. Gustave finds himself a beneficiary of the dowager's will, much to the consternation of her sons Dmitri and Jopling (Adrien Brody and Willem Dafoe, respectively), and an outrageous sequence of neatly observed, beautifully detailed hijinks ensue.

At times a dark thriller, most often an ebullient caper, The Grand Budapest Hotel would likely have ended up an unholy mess in any hands less capable than Anderson's. Not only does he strike a perfect balance of tone, he weaves his Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt through an emotionally engaging tale that sucks you in with its gentle humour and melancholy even as it invites you to sit back and appraise the form. It's a style well suited to Anderson's habit of littering his films with A-list character actors; appearances from Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum and Harvey Keitel serve the dual purpose of momentarily breaking the spell while contributing to its weave. The performances are exceptional, the production design superb, the dialogue shines and the direction should make Wes Anderson required viewing for anyone who wants to tell a story through a visual medium. It's unfairly good.

Reviewed on: 20 Feb 2014
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The adventures of a concierge and a lobby boy who becomes his friend.
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