Wes Anderson’s nostalgic longing for childhood, the past, for simplicity suffuses his films. It’s the pull of the family idyll—pulled between what one would like to believe family was ten years or more in the past, and what it actually is, that gives The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) its strangely charming and painful touch. We see this as well in Moonrise Kingdom (2012), where children flee from and towards the misery of adulthood (see especially The Royal Tennenbaums, 2001). But for Anderson these complicated, disturbing pulls and tugs weave the matrix of the world he has repeatedly portrayed. It’s adult world misery looming somewhere in the future that gives Moonrise Kingdom its poignancy. In The Grand Budapest Hotel that misery takes form in the looming ominousness of World War II and the rise of the Nazis. That looming reality is powerfully present in this film, even though it’s represented only indirectly, in camouflaged form, though there can be no misunderstanding about it.
The Grand Budapest Hotel may be Anderson’s best film. It’s a narrative within a narrative within a narrative. At some point I lost track—a young girl talking about an author who wrote about another author living in a European country who wrote about a hotel. But you don’t need to worry about keeping up. Ultimately it’s the hotel manager, the protégé of the main character, who tells the story to the author (played by Jude Law) who writes it all down.
The usual cast of Wes Anderson ensemble actors appear here—briefly, flitting through—and I found myself wondering when and whether we would see them. But they are not simply gratuitous appearances—everyone from F. Murray Abraham to Ed Norton to Bill Murray to Tilda Swinton make significant contributions. But Ralph Fiennes as concierge Gustave H commands the film, with newcomer Tony Revolori as the lobby boy close behind.
This is both a comedy and a dark noir. It’s fanciful and gruesome, although most of the gruesomeness takes place out of sight. The Grand Budapest Hotel is highly creative, entertaining, weird, and deeply poignant.