The movie takes place in Zubrowka, a fictional European country. The narrative is essentially a quadruple-decker sandwich: it starts out as an introduction of the country's national hero, a writer; then moves to the writer speaking about his greatest work, a book about the eponymous hotel; next comes the writer in his younger days in the hotel itself; and finally comes the main story: the relationship between a boy and the man in charge of The Grand Budapest Hotel during the final days of its glory, on the eve of WWII. (I apologize for the clumsy analogy. I am still hungry as I write this.)
The film starts slow but springs to life once Ralph Fiennes' character comes on screen. Fiennes plays M. Gustave, concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel, vacation home of Europe's upper classes. He's a firecracker: at once supercilious and crass, sincere and smarmy, yet always demanding perfection from his staff. His counterpart is Zero Mustafa (newcomer Tony Revolori), a bellboy who becomes his loyal protege and trusted ally when a wealthy woman's last will and testament sets in motion a chain of events that involve murder, theft, prison, secret societies, and pastries.
Minor characters are played by stars: Jude Law, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, and, of course, Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson. Yet everyone takes a back seat to Fiennes' and Revolori' characters, whose relationship shapes the story and whose shared persistence helps resolve the film's central mystery.
Fans of Anderson will be delighted at this tribute to the late writer Stefan Zweig. It's a fond look back at an era of literature and civility, where genteel decadences helped one forget about the brutalities of the world outside. It also pulls off the impressive feat of unveiling a very real pain through almost farcical comedies. The "grand" in the title is certainly true of both the hotel and the men who rule it.
Bottom line: Recommended for fans of Wes Anderson, Ralph Fiennes, or of quirky, well-made films.
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