Troop the life fantastic in Old Europe


The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) was released in March. It is another extraordinary and highly entertaining fantasy film with a cutting edge from the pen and vision of Wes Anderson. It is the best of his films so far. We have enjoyed his "Moonrise Kingdom" (2012), "The Fantastic Mr Fox" (2009), "The Darjeeling Limited" (2007), "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" (2004), "The Royal Tenenbaums" (2001), and "Rushmore" (1998), plus "The Squid and the Whale" (2005), which he produced. They are all out of the ordinary, fast moving, with absurdity stretching our credibility, yet cutting satires. They each enjoy elements of historical road shows.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is set in Central Europe during the tragedies that evolved into World War Two. The outlandish hotel is not in Hungary, but is situated high in snow-covered mountains of the Republic of Zubrowka. It was actually filmed at various historic sites and castles in Saxony, Germany, and at the Babelsberg studio in Berlin.

Wes Anderson likes using real places and studio creations rather than digital extravaganzas. This helps to create moods and atmosphere from 80 years ago.

The tale takes off in 1968 when a young writer (acted by Jude Law), visiting the hotel, becomes fascinated by an elderly guest who arrives with no airs, eats alone in the majestic restaurant (as do all the other guests) and sleeps high up in a garret in a small servant’s room with only a bed and a sink, smaller even than the hotel’s elevator. Yet, he has learned that this man of colour owns the hotel. When in the luxurious hot baths he meets the old man, Mister Z. Moustafa (played by F. Murray Abraham) who suggests that they have dinner together, so he may tell him his story, if he is really interested.

Thus in 1932 our tale truly begins -- it is nested in a shell with two upper levels that start in 1985 and descend through 1968. Moustafa, who was probably born around 1915, is between 16 to 18 years old when he arrives at the Grand Budapest Hotel, looking for a job. Zero (played as a youth innocently by Tony Revolori) has been tentatively hired. He must now be interviewed and approved by the hotel’s ruling concierge, M. Gustave (acted wonderfully by Ralph Fiennes). This interview becomes a long, convoluted and unexpected process, beyond any one’s dreams. Zero eventually becomes the hotel’s new Lobby Boy, but his time of ultimate adventures has only just begun.

Europe is on the verge of catastrophe: Fascism is on the rise. Zero’s life has already been marked by tragedy, because in civil conflicts and war he has lost all of his family and loved ones. Moving west as an immigrant, a refugee with only a tattered one-page identity document, he is desperate to be accepted and loved. He will find both in The Grand Budapest Hotel and its mountain top secrets. He transforms into Monsieur Gustave’s right-hand man and will learn discreetly what is required of him, eventually becoming a saviour.

Gustave is a unique character too; admittedly bisexual, he has developed a sophisticated talent for pleasing elderly ladies who visit his establishment seeking appreciation and someone who can listen to and understand them. His talents have helped to ensure the survival of the hotel through these difficult pre-war times. He is particularly fond of Madame D (Tilda Swinton in a cameo role), who before leaving, after her eighteenth season at the Grand Budapest, has a premonition that she is about to be murdered. She is extremely wealthy and Gustave knows in his heart that she will have recognized him in her will in some manner or form. He wants to say goodbye to her before she is buried. Life is not that simple.

He becomes caught up in a struggle staged by her son Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and his three sisters, who want all of their legitimate (in their eyes) inheritance, and to see that nothing goes to anyone else. Dimitri has hired a vicious hit man, Jopling (Willem Dafoe), to make sure his will be done.

This film transcends and descends even further into pomp and circumstances -- the troubled times of the 1930s also produce considerable violence, ranging from bloody noses for Zero and his mentor, to a head on a platter, prison episodes, and an extraordinary prison escape thanks to the courage and innovation of the beautiful Agatha (Saoirse Ronan). She works in a patisserie factory in Lutz and becomes Zero’s love of his life. All of these adventures are related to the fascinated writer, who turns out to be a good listener, during a prolonged gourmet dinner in the dining hall of the Grand Budapest.

You too will learn how young Zero became the owner of the magnificent, but now decaying, hotel in Zubrowka.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) is one hour and 40 minutes long. It is rated R for violence, language and innuendos. The director is Wes Anderson who also wrote the script. It is based loosely on the writings of Stefan Zweig (1881-1942). The cinematographer is Robert Yeoman. The editor is Barney Pilling. The mix of classical and local music is by Alexandre Desplat. Many of Anderson’s favorite actors and actresses are back in The Grand Budapest Hotel.


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