Perhaps quirkiest of all of this year’s nominees is The Grand Budapest Hotel directed by the quirky Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom, Rushmore) and starring Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter, The English Patient) as concierge extraordinaire Gustave H. who seeks to provide, on the brink of WWII, unparalleled service to the guests of this magnificent hotel.
In his nightly ‘sermon’ to the hotel staff, Gustave H. instructs his staff on how to deal with rude guests [reminiscent of the therapist’s understanding of hostile patients]: Rudeness is fear, proclaims Gustave, fear that one will not get what one wants. Thus, he explains, the staff must provide what is missing in order to disabuse the rude guests of their expectation of going unsatisfied. And Gustave H. always satisfies, both male and especially older, lonely female guests. One such guest, Tilda Swinton, bequeaths him a priceless painting which her family, of course, contests. Gustave H. steals the painting and a series of comic, and then not so comic, mishaps ensue.
The banter in this film is unexpected and, sometimes,twitterpating, delivered so dryly at times that my brain needed a moment to register the laughter. One of the most amusing scenes to me is the enduring politeness and hospitality of the imprisoned Gustave H. as he graciously offers mush to the other prisoners, treating them as if they were his honored hotel guests.
The sets are as delicious as the pastries and confections from Mendl’s Bakehop used to influence (maybe even bribe) prisoners and guards alike. As Nazis emerge on the horizon, Gustave H. clings to the belief that etiquette and elegance, masking his own occasional crudeness, might maintain a vanishing civilization. His sidekick, the lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori; later F. Murray Abraham), says of Gustave H. many years later, “He certainly maintained the illusion with remarkable grace.”
The Grand Budapest Hotel touts an extraordinary cast as well, with Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Tom Wilkerson and Owen Wilson, to name a few.