The year is 1932. Actually, no it’s not. It’s the present day, where we see a young girl clutching a book visiting a key-strewn memorial in an Eastern European graveyard. Then we jump back to 1985, where an author (Tom Wilkinson) gives a televised lecture interrupted by a small child. He’s talking about how stories present themselves to an author; his example takes place in 1968, when he (now played by Jude Law) was staying in the now-drab Grand Hotel Budapest, located in the (fictional) now-communist Eastern European country of Zubrowka. There he met the owner of the hotel, one Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) who, over dinner, tells him the story of how the hotel came into his possession. Now it’s 1932, and the glory days of the hotel. Its concierge, Monsieur Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), runs a tight ship – when he’s not off sleeping with the hotel’s older single guests, that is. It’s easy to see why they’d fall for him, too: a hilarious Fiennes is all charm and high energy as he goes about his business, which initially seems to involve shunting the dirty jobs on to new lobby boy, Zero (newcomer Tony Revolori).
The plot soon kicks in as one of Gustave’s elderly lovers (an unrecognisable Tilda Swinton) dies under suspicious circumstances. She leaves Gustave a priceless painting; her thuggish son Dmitri (Adrien Brody) does not approve. Accusations fly; Dmitri’s henchman Jopling (a feral Willem Dafoe) steps in. Political tensions mount; Zero falls in love with a baker’s assistant (Saoirse Ronan); there’s a prison escape (involving a shirtless Harvey Keitel); and a mountaintop confrontation. Someone has their fingers cut off; a cat is thrown out a window and does not survive.
This is much more of a straight-up romp than anything Anderson’s done before and it’s a joy to watch. His rapid-paced style of dialogue suits this kind of complicated story perfectly and his love of miniatures and elaborate sets provides an excellent backdrop for action. This is a lightweight confection of a film – cakes play a major role in the plot – but there’s a serious undercurrent here too. This is about as fun as movie-going gets.
Written by Anthony Morris