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Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody
Directed by Wes Anderson
If cinema is all about the magic of visuals, then Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel casts a splendid spell. Anderson, with his wonderful imagination and ingenuity, spins a beguiling yarn that has one enchanted from the first frame to the very last. What is seemingly a straightforward, even to an extent predictable, tale about a hotel concierge and his lobby boy, set against the backdrop of pre-war Europe, The Grand Budapest Hotel makes for an utterly novel and crisp piece of cinema in the way Anderson narrates it. The key to the film’s allure and appeal lies in its telling.
The whole film has the feel of a whimsy. On the one hand there’s an eyeful of elaborate, kitschy, candy-confection sets; on the other are equally dazzling, goofy, oddball characters. There’s a frenzy to them, their comic-book prattle and the bustling encounters with each other, reminiscent of the zaniness and anarchy of the Marx Bros movies. At the centre of it is Ralph Fiennes as concierge Gustav of Grand Budapest Hotel in the fictional alpine resort town of Zubrowka. He gets an expensive painting as a legacy on the death of a loyal hotel client, much to the unhappiness of her greedy and villainous family members. No wonder, Gustav finds himself framed and arrested on the charge of her murder. With a little help from his trusted lobby boy and confidante Zero (Toni Revolori), Gustav escapes from prison and teams up with him to prove his innocence. There is more: an assassin out to get Gustav, a chase down slow-laden ski slopes, cliff-hanging moments, some more chases in hotel corridors, shoot-outs and secret societies.
All through the high-strung, mad, improbable farce, the ugliness of fascist violence and fear of the impending war casts a shadow on the tale, but is never an overt threat—it’s most obvious in two comic-poignant scenes set on trains. The waning and crumbling hotel, however, is an indirect nod to the decay of Europe’s old-world, glamorous and sophisticated cosmopolitanism (the film is inspired by the works of Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig, reminiscer of ‘the world of yesterday’). The film has a splendid cast but belongs to Fiennes and Revolori. Fiennes digs into his role and makes it shine with his delectable, witty timing. Revolori is the perfect, dourly faithful foil. The most mouth-watering and seductive sequence, however, is not to do with the two of them but with the baking and smuggling of cakes. Makes you want to pick up and eat those pretty little pastries.
The Grand Budapest Hotel feels like an animation film that is wonderfully animated, vibrant and engrossing even on subsequent viewings. Even if you don’t find it compelling, it would be hard not to get charmed by it.