Movie Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Hospitality Industry Meets Murder Mystery
Fri, 04/25/2014 - 2:30pm

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Hospitality industry meets murder mystery

Wes Anderson is the tidiest, most uncluttered director working in Hollywood today. His knack for the aesthetically-pleasing was evident even in his earliest, shaggiest films, and likely before that: one can imagine his desk in grade-school artfully organized, scholastic tools neatly arranged by color, sharpened pencils — writing instruments — in a row resembling matchsticks. An apple or his homework in the exact center. Anderson’s obsession with minor details, whether noticeable or overlooked entirely, is perfectly suited for “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” his picturesque murder mystery.

Upon our arrival, we’re to believe The Grand Budapest Hotel is far past its prime; a sad, dilapidated vision of what once was, but even here Anderson can’t help ironing a tablecloth or two, giving hints to the splendor of years past. This is to our benefit, as the story takes place decades ago, during the hotel’s heyday and right through the oppressive wartime era that kept it fully occupied with no vacancies.

Our storyteller is one Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), graying current owner of the establishment and one-time proud Lobby Boy. He’s sentimental to a fault, stubbornly forgoing the many available suites in the hotel to stay in the cramped living quarters of his former boss, the inimitable Gustave (Ralph Fiennes).

In re-occurring flashbacks Zero tells the tale of Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), perhaps the greatest concierge that ever lived. Like Anderson himself, Gustave directs his staff-members with unparalleled grace and dry humour, attending to every detail as if the world’s balance is held in a well-manicured flower arrangement. Suave and always attentive, his services go far beyond the job description: his penchant for wealthy blonde women over the age of 50 makes for many rooms he’s entered to be left undisturbed.

When Madame D (Tilda Swinton), one of Grand Budapest’s wealthiest clients, is found dead under mysterious circumstances and M. Gustave is entrusted with a valuable painting in a last-minute rewrite of her will, the deceased’s family calls foul play. Gustave is then hunted by bloodthirsty mercenaries, and only his loyal Lobby Boy, Zero remains by his side as they plan to clear his name.

Fiennes’s Gustave is an inspired dandy, confident, bathed in perfume and reciting poetry even in the most dire circumstances; his depiction of a European elite embroiled in scandal is straight from the pages of Evelyn Waugh. Zero, innocent, shyly wears his adolescence like so many Anderson characters of the past. His “LOBBY BOY” pill-box hat is a shade too precious, like much of the twee fashion found in Anderson’s work. It’s a tiny critique in an otherwise stellar moviegoing experience.

Barring wartime and murder plots, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” focuses on the hospitality industry, a subject Block Islanders know very well. And like the coastal island adventure of “Moonrise Kingdom,” we can find elements of our hectic summer seasons at play, this time in the endless calls and responses to our client’s wants and needs, our personal needs going further and further down the list of importance until our very reputation is at stake — and right back up the priority list we go. And rinse and repeat.