Set in the fictitious alpine country of “Zubrowka,” Wes Anderson’s eighth film tells the story of Gustave, the concierge at the famous Grand Budapest Hotel, and his trusted friend Zero, the hotel’s lobby boy, as they navigate their way through adventures between World War I and World War II.
Zero (Tony Revolori), who eventually becomes owner of the Grand Budapest Hotel, tells the story of Gustave to a young, disaffected man known only as “The Author,” played by Jude Law. Ralph Fiennes does a fantastic job playing the unflappable Gustave and, coupled with Anderson’s signature style, seems the perfect fit.
Audiences have grown accustomed to Anderson’s detail-oriented, multi-layered cinematography, and Anderson has honed his skills with his most recent – and most visually appealing – film. His colors are almost oversaturated and because the film is shot in the Alps, the white background gives his color palate the perfect backdrop.
There is not one lull in excitement in the film, keeping the audience laughing and fascinated with its eccentric characters and touches on dark subject matter, such as war and violence. As is Anderson’s abrupt style, the mood goes from light to immediately tense within a scene as war starts to set in.
As Gustave and Zero take the train to the funeral of one of Gustave’s sexual conquests, soldiers stop the train to question every guest. Zero’s background is never fully explained, but he is assumed to be a refugee from an Arab country and his skin color makes him stand out on the European train. The soldiers immediately question him and, only due to Gustave’s tenuous connections to the militia captain, Zero’s life is spared.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is by far Anderson’s most graphic and violent film, but he somehow manages to make it seem light and hilarious. In this film, a character’s fingers get violently slammed in a door and cut off; naked old people are everywhere and the language is extremely explicit, but it all seems to fit perfectly into this little alpine town.
One of a few different story lines running through the film is Zero’s love for the pastry chef named Agatha, played by Saoirse Ronan. When Zero meets Agatha, they fall in love and as the plot thickens, she helps Gustave break out of jail by baking chisels and hammers into her cakes. The cakes are so beautiful that not even the guard dares to touch them.
Another story line is that of Gustave’s conquest Madame D who, upon her passing, bequeaths a valuable painting to Gustave that angers her greedy family. Anderson-regular Adrien Brody plays her son, Dimitri, and Willem Dafoe plays his hitman minion, Jopling.
The two are hilarious together, and Brody plays a convincing villain. Dafoe speaks in only one scene and wears prosthetic canine teeth, which gives him an underbite like a bulldog. While his character is absurd, he is very ruthless and gives the audience a great sense of foreboding.
The film is also full of cameos from regulars such as Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, as well as actors such as Harvey Keitel, Lea Seydoux and F. Murray Abraham. It’s the little things Anderson does that make viewing his movies a real pleasure. The hidden messages and witty dialogue that are everywhere make “The Grand Budapest Hotel” one of those films that has to be watched again and again to be fully understood.