I’ve spent a lot of time in hotels in my life— little ones, big ones, new ones old ones, cheap ones opulent ones. I have to confess, I love grand old hotels. Some of the old European ones have an especial charm to them. This movie, which was filmed basically in Germany, in particular in Gorlitz and other parts of Saxony, takes us back to a bygone era, the early thirties, only just before the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. As for particular hotels, existing locales such as the Grandhotel Pupp in the spa town of Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad), Czech Republic and the Grandhotel Gellért in Budapest were used as models or for scenes. As for the ethos of the film, think Downton Abbey plus about 10 years to get the period mentality right.
The essential plot is as follows: “THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL recounts the adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. The story involves the theft and recovery of a priceless Renaissance painting and the battle for an enormous family fortune — all against the back-drop of a suddenly and dramatically changing Continent.”
As for genre however, this Wes Anderson film is not mainly a period piece about halcyon days, not really. It is more of a deliberate farce providing a certain social commentary on the lifestyles of the rich and notorious, and how they went to such hotels to be endlessly pampered. You have to like parody, satire, or farce, to like a movie like this. But in fact there is a great deal to like about it.
For one thing— check out this cast, or should I call it a rogue’s gallery—
Most any film that stars the likes of Ralph Fiennes (who is truly spectacular in this movie),Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Willem Dafoe (as a true vampire like heavy), Adrian Brody, F. Murray Abraham, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, and Edward Norton to mention but a few of the cast of thousands, deserves to be given a chance to succeed. It is a bit of a puzzle that it was only in limited release until this week, but now is making the wider rounds, to a good deal of acclaim. In addition to the splendid cast, the cinematography and scenery itself is beautiful and well worth seeing in its own right. And while this is a character driven film focusing on Fienne’s character in particular, it zips right along to the end in about 100 minutes.
What do the critics think? One calls it screwball comedy. I can tell you that the crowd I saw the film with hardly laughed at all during the film, though there were some funny themes. Another critic calls it ‘elegantly zany’ which is nearer the mark. Call it Groucho meets Madame Dumont, without of course the Marx Brothers wit and humor.
But as it turns out, this film is really about the yearnings of the working class, the service industry, for a better life, a fairer life, where even the servants are treated well. And the film has a certain melancholy about it, because without lots of servants, the lifestyles depicted here could never exist. The irony and humor of the situation is such that it is at times absurdist, at times silly, and at times profound.
Don’t go to this film expecting the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which is really overall a better, more enjoyable film. No this is a rather different hotel, and its staff leads interesting and sometimes eccentric lives. But then there is something of the concierge in all of us I suppose, and definitely something of the ‘hotel boy’ as well.
Kudos to Wes Anderson for giving us a non-traditional, unpredictable film that takes us beyond the tedious and tawdry and superficial fare most often served up these days. In that respect, it is a breath of fresh air, or should I say a spray of Eau de’ Panache, like M. Gustave likes to wear.