The Grand Budapest Hotel

6 May 2014 Film

The Grand Budapest Hotel


The Grand Budapest Hotel sits at the foothills of the alps in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka, a fantasyland of old world European elegance and sophistication. Once a glittering palace where guests could take refuge, the hotel has fallen into disrepair in the present day. Now, it’s a decaying monument to a grand history.

For Anderson, the hotel is like a doll’s house where he may arrange each object precisely as he likes – a dream for a director whose distinctive style is marked by his finickiness. With endless staircases, ornate finishings and a colour scheme that matches the uniforms of the hotel’s army of staff, Anderson’s oft-nostalgic aesthetic perfectly complements his wistful subject matter.

The narrative is revealed like a set of Russian dolls: a girl reads a novel about a jaded writer (Jude Law) meeting rich hotelier Zero Moustafa (F Murray Abraham), who tells him the story of how he came to own “this enchanting old ruin”.

Zero began as a lobby boy (his younger self played by 17-year-old Tony Revolori) when the hotel was in its heyday, on the eve of World War II. The concierge, Monsieur Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), takes Zero under his wing, and much of this film’s charm and wit is built on the sublime Gustave, a meticulous dandy who strives to fulfill his guests’ every desire (in particular, those of the wealthy elderly ladies who frequent the hotel mainly to visit him).

After the death of his favourite, the senescent and filthy rich Madame D (Tilda Swinton), her son, Dmitri (Adrien Brody), refuses to hand over Gustave’s inheritance, a Renaissance painting titled Boy with Apple.

From here on in it becomes a caper, where Anderson toys with several fun plot devices: an art heist, a murder mystery, a prison breakout, a gunslinging shootout and a chase scene across snow-capped peaks. As usual, there’s a phenomenal cast of supporting and cameo actors: Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Léa Seydoux and Willem Dafoe (as a particularly memorable standover man).

Gustave’s philosophies could easily be read as Anderson’s own: make everything perfect, and make the stay enjoyable no matter what. But it’s the platonic love between Zero and Gustave that sets The Grand Budapest Hotel apart, adding the heart that’s often missing in his quirky humour and distancing affectation. This is one of Anderson’s finest achievements.

Rebecca Harkins-Cross