ImageWes Anderson movies, certainly since The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, have tended to be Marmite affairs: people either love them or hate them. Having said that, I’m kind of just OK with Marmite. I don’t mind it but don’t love it. It’s pretty much the same with Wes Anderson: I haven’t seen all of his films, but those I have I find quite enjoyable. My appreciation stops there, though.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is no exception. It has the usual deadpan humour combined with a distinct visual style. There are no end of linear perspective shots: views down corridors, down railway tracks, down roads. Within these landscapes vehicles come into view, go out of view, and faces are zoomed in on. There are also lateral tracking shots – in one instance the camera tracks left simply to move from one person to another at a dinner table. The three timelines depicted in the film are represented by three different aspect ratios – 2.35:1, 1.85:1 and 1.33:1 (thanks to the BFI programme notes for that technical info).

The story is based on the writings of Stefan Zweig. Ralph Fiennes displays a wonderful comic skill playing M. Gustave, the concierge at the Grand Budapest Hotel, located in Eastern Europe. M. Gustave has a courtly charm that beguiles his guests, male and female, and he makes no bones about the fact that he frequently sleeps with them. One such guest, the elderly Madame D (Tilda Swinton), is so in love with M. Gustave that she has returned for 19 seasons. Following Madame D’s death M. Gustave discovers that she has bequeathed him a valuable painting, ‘Boy with Apple’. However, anticipating trouble from Madame D’s family, led by her vicious son Dmitri (Adrien Brody), M. Gustave removes and hides the painting, replacing it on the wall with a rather different sort of painting – ‘Two Lesbians Masturbating’. Shortly afterwards, it is announced that Madame D’s death was murder, and M. Gustave finds himself framed and arrested. From hereon in much of the film consists of a prison break and extended chase.

Throughout much of this M. Gustave is accompanied by the hotel’s lobby boy, Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori). The two of them are an inspired deadpanning comic double act and their interactions are one of the delights of the film. The cast is particularly star-studded, and many of the performers are regulars of previous Anderson films, notably Bill Murray, here playing M. Ivan, the leader of the concierges’ organisation, The Society of the Cross Keys.

The story is told in flashback by Zero as an older man (played by F. Murray Abraham), and these segments top and tail the film. The main action takes place against in 1932 against the backdrop of some sort of fascist uprising in the region. Whether this adds a more serious emotional element to Anderson’s mannered storytelling, or whether it is merely jarring, may be a matter of taste. On first viewing, at least, I felt perhaps it veered a little towards the latter.

Overall, I found The Grand Budapest Hotel to be an amusing diversion, but it didn’t give me the kind of laugh-out-loud experience that I recently had watching Philomena, a story involving real-life heartbreak that nonetheless succeeds in being hugely funny.

Rating: 7/10

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