While other filmmakers get their hands dirty in kitchen sinks, Wes Anderson surely slips his into luxury cashmere mittens. His films overflow with intricate detail and make no pretence of existing in a world other than their own, just-about-earthbound parallel universe. So the five-star premises of his energetic new comedy ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ – a wedding-cake-like, pastel-coloured establishment situated somewhere in 1930s Mitteleuropa and peopled by eccentrics and lunatics – feel like business as usual. What’s different, though, is that the film’s shaggy-dog, sort-of-whodunit yarn offers laughs and energy that make this Anderson’s most fun film since ‘Rushmore’.
Where ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ had heart, ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ has pace and a winning manic streak. It also gives Ralph Fiennes a rare comic role as Monsieur Gustave, a concierge who wavers brilliantly between thug and gentleman aesthete. From Gustave’s mouth pours a head-spinning cocktail of politeness and filth as he becomes embroiled in the murder investigation and inheritance tussles that follow the death of one of his most loyal guests, the elderly Madame D (Tilda Swinton, barely recognisable beneath a carapace of make-up). At Gustave’s side is his loyal apprentice, Zero Moustafa (newcomer Tony Revolori with a drawn-on pencil moustache), who decades later (now played by F Murray Abraham) recounts events over dinner to a writer played by Jude Law.
The rest of Anderson’s cast is sprawling and starry. Blink and you might miss Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman and others in tiny roles. A bruising Adrien Brody and a Rottweiler-like Willem Dafoe represent a violent new European order – one of them is kitted out all in black, no less. In its own indirect and loopy fashion, is this Anderson’s most political film? It tips its hat to 1930s history in the way Hitchcock tipped his viewfinder to the same decade’s current affairs with ‘The Lady Vanishes’ (both films share a hotel, a train and an old woman at the centre of a mischievous mystery).
Like the ship of ‘The Life Aquatic’ or the townhouse of ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’, ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ comes with its own ready-made theatre and uniformed cast. From here, Anderson breaks out with verve on to trains, ski runs and cobbled streets to spin a wickedly funny tale that celebrates the final glory days of a dying world order. It’s all given a bombastic lift by an Alexandre Desplat score which crescendos in organs and drums. Full of Anderson’s visual signatures – cameras that swerve, quick zooms, speedy montages – it’s familiar in style, refreshing in tone and one of Anderson’s very best films.