Opening this year’s Glasgow Film Festival is The Grand Budapest Hotel from quirky auteur Wes Anderson, yet another film that proves no one makes them quite like him.
A charming journey into the past to tell the story of the eponymous institution and its various occupants, we start things in the present day when a travelling writer (Tom Wilkinson) describes his time visiting the Grand Budapest in the ’80s. We cut back to his time there (now played by Jude Law) where he meets the mysterious Mr. Mustafa (F. Murray Abraham) who is more than happy to tell his story.
Cut back even further to 1932 where we find Mr. Mustafa as fresh-faced lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori) under the employment of Gustav H. (Ralph Fiennes), a perfectionist concierge who takes more than a professional interest in his rich, elderly guests. When one of his beloved patrons, Madame D (Tilda Swinton), dies suddenly, he promptly finds out he has been left a very valuable painting in her will. The family isn’t too happy about this, not least of which her son Dimitri (Adrien Brody) who sets out after Gustav and Zero to retrieve the painting when they go on the run after being accused of Madame D’s murder.
This is unmistakably an Anderson picture, impeccably designed down to the smallest detail – you can just tell every inch of the titular building has been meticulously planned and inspected – and dialogue delivered in the quirky, deliberate manner his fans have come to know and love. On a purely technical and visual level the film is exquisite, from its eclectic pastel-shaded colour palette to the costumes and sets, all of which make it seem like some sort of idiosyncratic painting come to life.
But there’s also more to it than surface level perfectionism. The script is beautifully structured with this three tiered flashback approach that ties into its themes of legacy and looking back with fondness and longing. The dialogue is zippy, funny and eminently quotable, the humour pitched just at the right level of wry and knowing without tipping over into pretentiousness. And while it’s not as emotionally engaging as something like Moonrise Kingdom, there is still some emotional resonance to be found, particularly in a scene in which Gustav realises the error of his his passive, rude behaviour towards Zero.
It’s populated by an absolute stellar cast, some of whom will be welcome and familiar faces to Anderson fans like Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson, while the likes of Fiennes, Abraham, Saoirse Ronan and newcomer Revolori inject fresh blood into the director’s inimitable world creation, which in this case feels at once knowingly manufactured and entirely believable in its own right. Fiennes is particularly great here, giving a nuanced performance that brings a humanity to a potentially unlikeable character. Even when he does something stupid or says something rude and mean we’re still right along with him.
Part comedic character study, part farcical adventure, The Grand Budapest Hotel is another charmer from a director who is, like him or a not, a truly unique cinematic voice. While the multiple narration throughout as we jump between each of the time periods is a little unnecessary and distracting, it doesn’t take away too much from what is otherwise a beautifully designed delight, filled with great performances of characters that are a joy to be around. I’m not sure it will convert anyone who isn’t already an Anderson fan but it’s made with admirable affection and feels as much like a film made to satisfy the director’s own artistic ambitions as it does those who wait with bated breath for each and every one of his projects.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is released in UK cinemas on March 7th.