Strangely - and fortunately - enough, we have not had to wait as long this time for another of Wes Anderson's quirky fairy tales to hit screens. In 2012, his critically-acclaimed Moonrise Kingdom reconnected us with a place of picturesque nostalgia through the eyes of young love and bizarre relationships that re-introduce themselves amongst the backdrop of a grand, elitist, high-altitude holiday season in the form of The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Essentially a story-within-a-story, The Author (Tom Wilkinson) dictates an extraordinary tale that he claims "was exactly as it was described" concerning the mysterious-yet-friendly Zero Moustafa (a welcoming big-screen return from F. Murray Abraham) and how he has come to be something of a legend, both inside and outside of the hotel's walls. Meeting The Author many years earlier (the young Author played by Jude Law), Moustafa introduces us to M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), the eager-minded, short-tempered and utterly bewildering Concierge of the titular hotel during the 1930s. Befriending (and bedding) many of the hotel's more affluent and aged clientele, Gustave is certainly a chap with a reputation that precedes him. With the young Moustafa (Tony Revolori) under his wing, Gustave prides himself on his exquisite palace of perfection, but when he is accused of murder and imprisoned, it's up to Moustafa and the cunning nature of their unlikely-but-adorable bond to return them to freedom and fulfilment in times of depression and despair.
M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) is placed under arrest by Henckels (Edward Norton) Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
Using the onset of World War Two as a backdrop to this otherwise tragic and touching fairy-tale adds a nice intensity to the sheer goofiness of the film's style. But - like many other "historical" elements of the story - this is an illusion. Designed to maintain a 'storybook' aesthetic, Anderson keeps us at a safe distance from anything that's too sad, graphic or even factual, giving the film a wonderful tone of naivety and blissful escapism. For example, rather than the SS occupying the hotel, they are the ZZ, with a banner and symbol deliberately reminiscent of the Swastika; and the imminent conflict is only ever referred to as "the war". These wonderful little motifs give the story a sense of security and safety; a constant reminder that we are being told a story; it's truth and sense of reality is not necessarily relevant.
Filled with a mixed bag of stars both young and old, the familiar faces that populate the screen throughout its 100-minute runtime also keep us comfortable as we marvel at the sheer quirkiness, ridiculousness and absolute hilarity of what is taking place in front of us. All the performers are solid, obviously enjoying the prospect of being apart of something so special, something so different. Ralph Fiennes is an absolutely delight and laugh-riot as the central figure Gustave, with a vivid collection of supporting characters only Anderson can dream up, played by (to name a few) Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Owen Wilson, Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton, and Academy Award winner Adrien Brody - all familiar faces within the Wes Anderson back-catalogue.
Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) sits down to tell his story to The Young Author (Jude Law) Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox
Whether you're a fan of this man's films or not, The Grand Budapest Hotel scores the most fundamental marks for design, originality, imagination and vision. That having been said, outspoken fans of Anderson's work will not be disappointed. A vivid, funny, charming, off-the-wall vignette comedy, The Grand Budapest Hotel could quite possibly be the most memorable film of the year thus far. Be sure to remember it the next time you check in.