Wes Anderson situated his fictional Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) in the mythical nation of Zubrowka, a bit east of the Marx Brothers’ Freedonia. The time is the late 1930s, a rare moment when most of Eastern Europe was between great wars–but not for long.
The Grand Budapest was a commodious Fabergé Egg of a hotel that cosseted relics from the Gilded Age that could afford its luxury, gentility and discreet services. It was a private world where privilege sat at the table while the proles made meals, washed the dishes and linens—until vulgarians invaded. Those intruders were not all the same lot. Some were motivated by familial greed and skullduggery; others were Nazis driven by resentment and pursuing power and the victor’s place at the table of bounty. Also on the menu were murder and grand theft.
Doesn’t sound like a lot of laughs, does it? Yet I could be describing the Marx Brothers’ masterpiece movie, Duck Soup, about two fictional Eastern European forces at the brink of war. (There is cursing and a flash of a sexual encounter, so parents may wish to preview prior to a family screening.)
The comedy in Grand Budapest Hotel, from wit, sly and wry, to gleeful sin, slamming doors, a prison break, a cliffhanging danger, mad chases and a clumsy mass shoot-out is superbly staged by Wes Anderson, and every sequence masterfully filmed by Robert Yeoman and edited by Barney Pilling.
Engaging a brilliant cast was crucial to the success of Grand Budapest Hotel, although a few actors sounded they were more likely from Brooklyn than the Balkans. Center stage were faultless performances by Ralph Fiennes as the concierge and lobby boy Tony Revolori, who perfectly complemented each other. Tilda Swinton was a standout in a standout role. Neither Willem Dafoe nor Adrian Brody have ever appeared more menacing. The entire stellar supporting cast comprised some of the brightest talents in movies today: Jude Law, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Saoirse Ronan, Tom Wilkinson, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum, Jason Schwartzman, Edward Norton, Mathieu Amalric, Neil Huff and F. Murray Abraham. Part of director Wes Anderson’s magic is that he can attract o many top actors to work with him.
Wes Anderson’s name may be less familiar to older audiences than his movies, among which are Bottle Rocket (1996), Rushmore (1998), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004), The Darjeeling Limited (2007), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), Moonrise Kingdom (2012), and Isle of Dogs 2018). Each of those movies has enthusiastic fans, but for this fan, The Grand Budapest Hotel is Wes Anderson’s masterpiece—thus far.