The Whimsical Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, 2014)

A number of years ago it occurred to me that Anderson was channelling  John Irving — the eccentric family and hangers-on, the tangled comedic plot, flashbacks, an unexpected moment of violence or atrocity,  a sequence in Vienna, a significant bear… I haven’t followed his work closely enough to confirm how right the thought was. I’m sure I spotted a bear in The Grand Budapest Hotel.

The first thing to say is that it’s fun and the second is that it makes it less fun to write about. It’s a nested narrative — a young woman visits the monument to an author, an author lectures the camera, the author narrates a tale told to him, before we return, over precipitously, up the abîme. This is a tall tale, a very tall tale, it’s not necessarily the truth — and unconvincing model shots and matte paintings reinforce this. The titular hotel, in Republic of Zubrowka, has since been demolished and is owned by Zero Moustafa. Moustafa recalls a story of the hotel’s glory days in the early 1930s, when it was ruled over by the concierge, M. Gustave, who ministered to everyone’s needs, especially if they were blonde, rich and elderly. With the arrival of Zero as new lobby boy and the death of Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe und Taxis, a conspiracy is hatched.

The plot is frankly ludicrous or, better, ludic, and has more twists and turns than a twisty turny thing. I suspect I had a grin on my face for much of the time; there was also a frown as I pondered … is that Tom Wilkinson? Isn’t that Tilda Swinton? Is that him — no, he was in The Man in the High Castle (2015), his brother’s called Joseph… Ralph? Oh, is that Keitel? Walken? No, Dafoe… An all star cast and you know Bill Murray is going to turn up. You have to swallow the whimsy, and not wonder too much about the eastern European politics and rise of Naziism that was contemporaneous with the setting.

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