Even though there is a certain cartoonish nature to Wes Anderson world that I often resist, his new movie about an old hotel, starring Ralph Fiennes as a concierge, has completely won me over. Watching it is like gazing into one of those stereopticons which would show the hotel and the mountains on either side as if in 3-D. The camera work and sets in a hotel are lovingly crafted, beautifully framed. The cast consists of a brilliant Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel as a convict, type casting of the best kind, Saoirse Ronan as a baker who would be too beautiful if it weren’t for the large birthmark on her face, Jude Law as a young writer with a willing ear, Jeff Goldblum as a lawyer, Edward Norton as an inspector of some kind in the Fascist army of the fictitious country.
The story is about an heiress, played by Tilda Swinton, whose will may or may not be legitimate. Her children, including a very funny and touching Adrien Brody, are suspicious. The audience is suspicious of Brody. Willem Dafoe, a henchman, is alternately hilarious and scary. There is a chase scene through a ski course that you may recognize from the Olympics or an old Pink Panther movie. Even though there are many quotes from classic old movies, including ones about prison breaks, film noir, adventures, and escape through Nazi lines, Anderson is not making fun of them, but paying homage.
The structure of the movie is a man telling a story about a man telling a story. So the whole picture refers to others. The one person blazing bright throughout in a very original way is Ralph Fiennes as the legendary concierge.
My favorite line from the movie: I don’t know if Gustave’s way of life ever existed, or if he was expert at creating the illusion of it. I don’t think the the Grand Budapest Hotel ever existed, but Wes Anderson has expertly created the illusion of it.