Bienvenus, willkommen, welcome to Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel, a "grand illusion" of a mythical Mitteleuropa that never existed outside the silver screen, yet is suffused with enough of actual Europe between the two world wars to become a sort of "documentary of the imagination". Though at heart a stylized screwball burlesque rich in the director's wry, idiossyncratic humour, highly influenced by the classical Hollywood comedies of pre-WWII, The Grand Budapest Hotel is also Mr. Anderson's most grown-up confection. By letting in a wind of change - or, one might say, a wind of war - in his self-contained universes, he is merely amplifying his trademark melancholy nostalgia for an innocent time, better days gone by — though, this time, realising that you cannot truly hold on to it forever (even if his films seem to wish otherwise).

     Set in the fictional "Republic of Zubrowka" in the year 1932, with omens of war in the horizon as invading forces are at the border, Mr. Anderson's whimsical tale concerns the perfect concierge of the luxurious Grand Budapest Hotel, Monsieur Gustave H. (a pitch-perfect Ralph Fiennes) and his role in the strange case of aged wealthy millionairess Celine Villeneuve Desgoffe und Taxis (Tilda Swinton unrecognisable under heavy prosthetics). Falsely accused of her murder, the effete but shrewd Gustave stages an elaborate prison escape with the help of his faithful lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori) to find himself pursued by the conniving son of the deceased (Adrien Brody). This being a Wes Anderson picture, though, the tale unfolds in a series of nested Russian dolls, with the central tale of Gustave and Zero's struggle to uphold the impeccable reputation of the Grand Budapest told in flashback in 1968 by a now-aged Zero (F. Murray Abraham) to a renowned author (Jude Law); but this is also a flashback, as the now-aged author (Tom Wilkinson) writes it in 1985.

     Mr. Anderson's fastidiousness extends to shooting each of the temporal frames in a different screen ratio and colour scheme; but in this thrice-told narrative openly inspired by the work of Austrian raconteur Stefan Zweig, the director finally finds the "exit" from his self-containment that he failed to find in the charming but flyweight Moonrise Kingdom. More overly farcical yet no less moving than his best work, The Grand Budapest Hotel makes the director's quiet melancholia resonate at a higher frequency than usual in his precise intertwining of style and substance, form and function. An elaborate confection where everything is in its precise place, this tale of a fictional past coloured by the actual past seems to radiate a more acute sense of loss, both personal and social, than is usual in the filmmaker. The apparent excess of both stars (a veritable "who's who" of contemporary film actors, many of which returning from previous films) and style (Adam Stockhausen's meticulous production design and Robert Yeoman's tactile cinematography are stunning formal achievements), however, only seems to train the eye more on the essence of the tale.

     It's a tale of lonely people railing against "the dying of the light", attempting to hold on to a way of life that is doomed, expanding on Mr. Anderson's usual tales of dysfunctional families looking for a return to a more peaceful time (or "a more perfect union") into a greater sense of a whole lost world fondly remembered. That The Grand Budapest Hotel does so with wit and style in a clear homage to comedy stylists such as Ernst Lubitsch or Buster Keaton only makes it more appealing.

USA, Germany 2014
99 minutes
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Léa Seydoux, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson, Tony Revolori
Director and screenwriter Wes Anderson; based on a story by Mr. Anderson and Hugo Guinness; cinematographer Robert Yeoman (colour, varying screen ratios); composer Alexander Desplat; designer Adam Stockhausen; costumes Milena Canonero; editor Barney Pilling; producers Mr. Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales and Jeremy Dawson, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Indian Paintbrush and American Empirical Pictures in association with Studio Babelsberg and TSG Entertainment
Screened: February 5th 2014 (Berlinale 2014 official competition advance screening, Cinestar Cubix 5, Berlin) and April 4th 2014 (distributor advance screening, UCI El Corte Inglés 12, Lisbon)


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