Review by Jane Freebury
‘Who wouldn’t want to be a lobby boy at the Grand Budapest? It’s an institution.’ The answer that nails it for the new lobby boy shows that even if he doesn’t have any experience, or any education or family, he can show a deft hand. The guests at the grand old hotel, once a jewel of a seat of empire, can be a cranky, touchy lot, difficult to please and their secrets must be carried to the grave.
This madcap comedy, the latest from the very talented Wes Anderson, is set in a fictional European country called Zubrowka, which, although a republic, is stratified by class. At the centre of the grand old hotel is M. Gustav, played by Ralph Fiennes in very silky form—no shades of Basil Fawlty here. This concierge of unknown background and indeterminate gender preferences knows exactly how to be all things to all people. Daubed with six or seven different kinds of scent, one for every eventuality, but always wearing his l’Air de Panache, he is a marvellous creation, and perfect role model for aspiring lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori).
Zero isn’t long in the job before Gustav drags him off to say goodbye to Madame D. (Tilda Swinton, what can I say?), an 84-year-old who enjoyed his hospitality regularly. The dear old dame has already died, but her will is about to be read. Gustav is bequeathed a priceless renaissance painting, the only thing of any worth in the estate, and it sets the picaresque narrative rolling. Gustav and Zero sequester the art treasure to protect it from the woman’s greedy children, led by Adrien Brody’s Dmitri.
Complete with brush back and a moustache with waxed ends Dmitri cuts the perfect figure of a villain in amongst the stylistic touches that are a hommage to cinema at its start – iris in, intertitles, a squarer framing ratio and music to match.
Gustav is subsequently arrested by an incompetent military (Edward Norton’s Henckels is in command) for Madame D’s murder instead. His imprisonment and subsequent escape set in motion madcap pursuits involving estate lawyer (Jeff Goldblum), an inmate with an escape plan (Harvey Keitel), a scary private detective (Willem Dafoe), a monastery of complicit monks who try to help Gustav prove his innocence. All the while, Anderson keeps everything working smoothly like gloriously calibrated clockwork.
This film is a wonderfully inventive experience, bursting with ideas, light and deft, and graced by cameos by some of the best actors around. How does director Wes Anderson do it? Why do actors like Lea Seydoux, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson, actors who could easily command a film by themselves, agree to take part in his vision? Maybe, like the rest of us, they just want to have some fun.
In a capsule: A delightful, inventive comic experience told with distinctive panache. Brimming with ideas and with terrific cameos from some great acting talent.