1. The Grand Budapest Hotel, identifies Stefan Zweig, an Austrian novelist, as an inspiration (a contemporary of E.M. Forster from the early half of the 20th century). It uses a Zweig-like author as one of its three framing devices, which left me wondering if this was necessary - or just another cute style flourish in a movie composed entirely of cute style flourishes. Form is function in this (writer-director) Wes Anderson film. What is this manically-paced movie about? It is all about style, if it is about anything at all.
2. It's a meringue of a movie, profoundly sweet and pretty, like one of those confections from the confectionery Mendl's in the movie. It's a heist and a caper, it's a whodunit too, with a body in the library, a butler (in this instance the protagonist, the pompous, mannered and perfumed grand concierge Gustave H, brought to life by Ralph Fiennes in a comic, sympathetic and droll performance), a missing painting, a jail break, a disgruntled heir, a gothic palace, and a guest-list of cameos. The whole thing is finely art directed and exactingly styled, reminding me of nothing so much as one of those big production Tim Walker fashion spreads.
3. Luckily the rather self-conscious thing is enlivened by wonderful little pieces of acting by the ensemble of cameos. These are studded like brandied cherries in an all-cream wedding cake, densely sweet on sweet, with a bit of tartness. We see them all through the extraordinary pragmatic eyes of Zero, the Indian lobby boy (Tony Revolori): I was riveted by a sequence where a chain link of grand concierges of the crossed keys make telephone calls. Tilda Swinton is amazing and memorable (she looks like amazingly like Dame Vivien Westwood here); Adrien Brody adds a darkly sleazy note
(always!); Jeff Goldblum is surprisingly good (because
almost unrecognisable, I suspect); Willem Dafoe is really
rather funny as the ruthless roughneck; Edward Norton is a
handsome policeman: there are many others including
Saoirse Ronan, Bill Murray, Jude Law, Owen Wilson, Jason
Schwartzman, etc. They are uniformly eccentric and
4. For all its polish and distancing nostalgic style, this work
still feels human. It has a warmth and heart because it is also
about rather real human frailties and heroic qualities.
I think also that it is made with great passion and that does translate onto the screen.
5. Lush visuals aside, the movie suffers from a rather abrupt ending (not that it's a short movie). The various threads seem to be knitting themselves into a bigger picture than it really is. As it is, the movie seems to be a tribute to "CUTE" and "CHARM" and that's sufficient I suppose in these rather dark and charmless times.