What a cast! Part of the fun of Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson’s latest, is picking out all the cameos from the considerable number of A-list actors. Tilda Swinton made up as the soon to be deceased Madame D; Adrien Brody as the snarling Dmitri; Willem Dafoe as the pantomime villain Jopling; Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jude Law, Owen Wilson…the list goes on. The cast of characters are as colourful as the bright pastel visuals, but the film belongs to Ralph Fiennes as the eccentrically camp (yet definitely straight) M. Gustave – his most amusing role to date.
The story-within-a-story-within-a-story tells the bizarre tale of Gustave, owner of the titular hotel in the fictional Eastern European Republic of Zubrowka. Essentially a farcical murder mystery meets art-heist, Gustave is accused of killing Madame D, leading him on a plot to escape the law alongside his lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori), all set to the rather more serious backdrop of pre-WWII Europe. As the narrative structure implies, visually the film is a storybook come to life, as if we are witnessing first-hand the novel that Jude Law’s Author is writing.
Indeed, it’s the visuals that are most striking in Anderson’s film. The sets and costumes are incredibly decadent (like the Mendl’s pastries that form a key plot device), whilst any special effects have a cheap yet quaint feel that only adds to the cartoonish style. The cinematography is especially notable, the framing of each shot only adding to the film's theatricality. The mise en scène is uniform, parallel and centred, whilst camera movement is rigid, full of swooping tracking shots and zooms. It gives the impression of an institution grappling to keep control of the comedic drama, like the hotel attempting to contain the eccentricities of Gustave. The music, too, reflects this, juxtaposing jolly Eastern European folk tunes with classicism.
Fans of Anderson’s work will find much to enjoy here, with many familiar tropes. Yet for all the film’s grandeur and spectacle, it’s the small touches that most amuse. A nosy face appearing from around a corner; an expression visible only in a mirror; hilarious one-line cameos and more. The fast-paced plot feels almost out of control, rarely pausing for breath. What exactly it all amounts to beyond a silly journey through European opulence is unclear, but Grand Budapest Hotel doesn’t fail to entertain.