Director Wes Anderson often creates films that inspire admiration rather than love. They are products of the intellect, not unruly effusions of the heart.
His scenes are sculpted confections, like grandiose patisserie; his dialogue deadpan, his characters mannered. He captures the action on a camera that moves with the geometric fluidity of an Etch-A-Sketch stylus.
This story of the rise and fall of a wedding cake hotel is set in a fictional spa town in an imaginary country in the unreal ’30s allowing Anderson to create a complete aesthetic for his tall tale of mayhem in Mitteleuropa.
Into this stiffly formal parade, Anderson inserts mischief and absurdity, and while lives may unravel his fastidious grip never yields.
Yet he is at his most entertaining and devilish when he undercuts this formal portraiture with naughtiness, like an armpit fart in the National Gallery.
For this impish purpose he deploys the magnificent Ralph Fiennes. As legendary force-of-nature concierge Gustave H, Fiennes displays a blend of camp, violence, eloquence, servitude, high style, low filth, coldness and dry comedy.
If a Wes Anderson film were a person, it would be Gustave H.
Gustave’s escapades are enfolded in not one but two framing stories. The Writer (Jude Law) tells us the story that Zero Moustafa (F Murray Abraham) told him about he came to own the hotel – in the ’30s the finest in the world, nowadays a shell.
The young Zero, played by newcomer Tony Revolori, was Lobby Boy and sidekick to Gustave as the perfumed concierge entered his gravest trials and enjoyed his greatest triumphs.
It is, at its heart, a caper movie with Gustave, the persuasive lover of his elderly guests, running foul of a scheming family who wish to reclaim a priceless painting that Fiennes’ character was bequeathed by one of his elderly lovers and that he contrives to steal. Gustave must face the slammer, slander, sewage and sleigh-riding to clear his name.
And along the way he meets a cast as colourful and plush as the hotel’s upholstery.
Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman come and go while Adrien Brody and a skeletal Willem Dafoe show more tenacity as they battle to regain the painting. Meanwhile the arrival of the jackboot suggests Gustave may be too late to reclaim his life of hedonism.
The result is a bittersweet story about story-telling, and one of Anderson’s best. While the plot points may quickly fade, the gentleman thug Gustave H will hang around with the persistence of his beloved L’Air de Panache cologne.
The Grand Budapest Hotel