Quirky characters, vibrant colors, an intricate prison escape and quick witted dialogue, are several of the things that are featured in the film “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” The movie premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival on February 6, 2014. The one hundred minute film was directed by three time Oscar nominee, Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums). Inspired by the writing of Stefan Zweig (Letter from an Unknown Woman), Anderson wrote the screenplay for the comedy based on a story he co-wrote with Hugo Guinness (Fantastic Mr. Fox).
The highly entertaining film begins with a series of flashbacks, initially narrated by Golden Globe winner, Tom Wilkinson (John Adams). The older Wilkinson reflects back on his younger self, who is played by Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes). Law’s character is spending some time in a sparsely populated hotel known as The Grand Budapest. He speaks to the fact that most of the guests who are there, primarily keep to themselves. One day, he spots a man who he has not seen before. He asks the concierge of the hotel, M. Jean (Jason Schwartzman) who the man is. The person turns out to be Mr. Zero Moustafa, former hotel lobby boy, and current owner of the hotel, which is located in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka. He is portrayed by Academy Award and Golden Globe winning actor. F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus). A short time later, the two men have a chance encounter. Law’s character asks Mr. Moustafa how he came to own the hotel, a story which Zero tells him, he will relay to him in full, over dinner. (As an aside, the name Zubrowka was taken from a Polish vodka).
After the two men sit down to dinner, Zero begins telling his story. The younger version of Zero (Tony Revolori) begins life as a lobby boy at the opulent hotel. At first, he goes unnoticed by the legendary concierge, M. Gustave H., played by BAFTA winning actor, Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List). Gustave is a poetry quoting, fastidious, gregarious individual, who never forgets a face, and it would seem, he is one of the main reasons people came to stay at the hotel. Once Gustave discovers Zero, he takes him under his wing, and begins to tutor him in what goes into becoming an effective lobby boy. What starts out as a professional relationship, will soon turn into a deep and abiding friendship. (As an aside, Wes Anderson originally wanted Johnny Depp (Donnie Brasco) to play the role of Gustave.)
Gustave, according to Zero, can be smelled prior to entering a room, and long after he has left; this is due to his dousing himself in a perfume called ‘L’Air de Panache.’ Additionally, he has romantic dalliances with the older, blonde haired, wealthy female clientele of the hotel. One woman in particular, the eighty-four year old, Madame D., acted by Oscar winner, Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton), is almost unrecognizable, due to very effective makeup. She has a deep affection and love for Gustave. Her subsequent murder, shortly after she leaves the hotel, will be the catalyst that sets in motion the events that transpire during the remainder of the movie.
At the reading of Madame D’s will, the character of Deputy Kovacs, portrayed by Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park), informs the assemblage that Gustave has been bequeathed a valuable painting known as ‘Boy with Apple.’ This does not sit well with Madame D’s greedy, foul mouthed son, Dmitri, played by Oscar winner, Adrien Brody (The Pianist), nor his sinister henchman, Willem Dafoe’s character, Jopling, who has some scary looking teeth.
Gustave is framed for the murder of Madame D. and sent to jail. This is thanks to Dmitri producing a witness, Serge X (Mathieu Amalric), who claims Gustave was the last person who was with Madame D. before she was murdered. It is now up to Zero to assist him from the outside, not only with clearing his name, but in a daring prison escape, orchestrated by Harvey Keitel’s (Reservoir Dogs) character, Ludwig, and the inmates who share his cell. Zero, who has fallen in love, since becoming a member of the hotel staff, gets the assistance of his fiancée, Agatha. Portrayed by Saoirse Ronan (Hanna), her character is an exceptionally talented baker, who has a birthmark on her face, which, as is pointed out to the viewer, is in the shape of the country of Mexico. Working for Mendl’s bakery, she places digging tools inside of pastries, which are then sent to Gustave at the prison. The film, from that moment forward, becomes a wild ride, as Gustave with Zero’s help, attempts to clear his name. To write more about the specific details of the plot, I feel, would spoil the enjoyment for those of you who have not yet seen the film.
The movie is visually stunning, thanks to the cinematography of Robert D. Yeoman (Bridesmaids). The score by Alexandre Desplat (Argo), also deserves mention, as it helps to effortlessly compliment the action on the screen. Traversing three different time periods, the film utilizes a very large cast, several of whom I haven’t even mentioned in this blog. One of those actors is Bill Murray (Moonrise Kingdom), who has a limited amount of screen time, as M. Ivan, Gustave’s fellow concierge and friend. This is the seventh time that he and Wes Anderson have collaborated on a film together. Overall, it is a very enjoyable movie that should appeal to a wide audience.