Wes Anderson has long been a purveyor of painstakingly detailed worlds; heightened realities from which tastes and textures seem to leap off the screen. His latest offering, The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), is no different and stars a wonderful Ralph Fiennes as rakish concierge M. Gustave. The aroma of his cologne, L’Air de Panache, clings to the nostrils and the sweetness of an extravagant morsel from boutique patisserie Mendl’s lingers on the lips. The lead and his establishment, both grandiose and antiquated monuments in a changing world, are paeans to vanished luxury that provide the perfect setting for Anderson’s unique brand of whimsy.
Gustave is introduced within a trio of matryoshka doll framing devices. He sleeps with all his friends, darling, but seems to have had quite the profound effect on the withered matriarch Madame D. (Tilda Swinton). “When you’re young it’s all fillet steak,” he informs lobby boy and protégé, Zero (Tony Revolori), “but as you get older, you have to move on to the cheaper cuts.” His prowess in the sack earns him a prized asset when Madame D. shuffles off and bequeaths her lover the invaluable painting Boy with Apple. Meanwhile, the disgruntled family of the deceased – including the coiffured Dmitiri (Adrien Brody) and henchman Jopling (Willem Dafoe) – are intent on murdering Gustave and reclaiming the piece.
What follows is a caper of the most pleasurable kind taking the beleaguered heroes on a mad dash through the wintry landscape of fictional European country Zubrowska, which finds itself on the verge of a devastating war. Apparently inspired by the writings of Austrian author Stefan Zweig, the fleet-footed plot takes them via a large contingent of Anderson’s ever-expanding repertory company. Alumni like Messrs Goldblum, Keitel, Murray, Norton, Schwartzman and Wilson are joined by newcomers F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Jude Law, Léa Seydoux, Tom Wilkinson and Saorise Ronan as Zero’s lifelong love, Agatha. It’s most certainly Fiennes’ show, however, and he takes to the role with gusto, relishing the overblown characterisation and consistently hitting his comedy markers; he really is a joy to behold.
Detractors of Anderson – who are unlikely to be convinced by this offering – regularly cite his mannered style and lack of depth as off-putting, and there is a case to be made that his studied images and awkward deadpan dialogue serve to hold the audience at arms length. Despite being one of his most ostentatious films to date, the setting, plot, performances and authorial tone on display marry together seamlessly to simultaneously heighten and smooth his trademark style. There’s potentially an argument to be made for a lack of emotional complexity, but there’s equally a poignancy that permeates much of the runtime. More importantly, The Grand Budapest Hotel is immense fun and, as far as Anderson’s oeuvre is concerned, unquestionably the rarest of fillet steak.