It stood above the spa town of Nebelsbad and below the Alpine Sudetenwaltz in the former Republic of Zubrowka, the Grand Budapest Hotel, now demolished but immortalised in the writings of one of the most beloved sons of Zubrowka who wrote of his retreat in August 1968 to the once majestic establishment in its declining years, where he dined with the owner, the lonely widower Zero Moustafa.
Already regarded at that time as “too decadent for current tastes,” the few guests reserved and solitary, the author had used as the basis for his celebrated 1985 novel titled The Grand Budapest Hotel his conversation with the owner whose association with the establishment began in 1932 when as a young refugee he was employed as a lobby boy for a trial period under the direct guidance of the concierge, Monsieur Gustave H, sophisticated, erudite and adaptable to any circumstance from charming guests to staging jailbreaks.
An astonishing story of love, loss, war, art theft, murder, skiing and pastries, M. Gustave had soon after been accused of the murder of one of the regular patrons of the Grand Budapest, the eighty-four year old dowager Madame Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe und Taxis, his lover of twenty years, who in her will had bequeathed M. Gustave the priceless van Hoytl portrait Boy with Apple, much to the outrage of her volatile son Dmitri.
Written and directed by Wes Anderson from a story conceived alongside Hugo Guinness inspired by the works of Austrian literary figure Stefan Zweig, The Grand Budapest Hotel brought together an extensive roster of his previous collaborators in lead and supporting roles alongside familiar faces new to his ensemble in his most ambitious project, artistically, technically and narratively.
Shot principally in the abandoned Görlitzer Warenhaus department store in Saxony where the multi-level atrium was lavishly redressed to represent the different eras of the Grand Budapest with location work filmed in the vicinity, the nested stories are set across four time periods, each with a different visual presentation, the two historical periods represented by the prevalent cinematic ratio of those eras, 2.40:1 for 1968 with a colour palette of decayed yellows as the hotel falls into disrepair and 1.37:1 for 1932 with opulent pinks and reds for its heyday.
With Tony Revolori and F Murray Abraham as the younger and elder Zero Moustafa and Jude Law and Tom Wilkinson as the younger and elder author, Ralph Fiennes is tragic central figure of Monsieur Gustave, resolute in his dignity despite the slings and arrows of truly outrageous fortune, Saoirse Ronan is apprentice baker Agatha and Tilda Swinton is Madame D, while Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, Edward Norton, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson also appear.
All the performers slipping effortlessly into Anderson’s eccentrically stylised vision, the camera sweeps from face to face and room to room, from the servants’ quarters to the grandest suite, from the royal purple uniforms and the delicate pink confections of Mendl’s to the ghoulish black clad parasites gathered at the reading of the will, Anderson’s trademark formal arrangements switching between high theatricality with articulately crafted and delivered dialogue to slapstick shenanigans and unlikely chase sequences.
A melancholy comedy where small acts of kindness carry weight yet struggle against the overwhelming cruelty of the world, The Grand Budapest Hotel was nominated for nine Academy Awards of which it won four, and now released on Blu-ray as part of Criterion’s ongoing Wes Anderson catalogue the package contains numerous special features showcasing the multiple disciplines which contributed to the artistry and deeper explorations of the film, from the framing of the compositions, the perfection of the image in contrast to the chaos of the characters’ lives, to the themes of absence, space and reinvention: life destroys, but art persists.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is available on Blu-ray from Criterion now