“The Grand Budapest Hotel” may be director Wes Anderson’s most intricately constructed and lushly designed jewel box — and that’s saying something for the guy who made “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Moonrise Kingdom.”
But this comedy-drama, set in the decadent glamour of pre-World War II Europe and the squalid drabness of the Iron Curtain, is also the most sweetly nostalgic and wistful.
Anderson — who shares story credit with Hugo Anderson and cites the pre-war Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig as an inspiration — structures this tale like a series of nesting dolls. It starts now, with an anonymous young woman reading the work of a deceased author, then switches to 1985 as that author (Tom Wilkinson) starts telling his story to the camera.
Anderson switches again to 1968, and the author (played in his younger days by Jude Law) is visiting the now-rundown Grand Budapest Hotel in the fictional — and now Communist — central European nation of Zubrowka. There he has dinner with a mysterious old man, Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) — and it’s his story, starting in 1935, that Anderson is really aiming to tell.
In 1935, the Grand Budapest is an oasis of luxury, a destination for Old European nobles to enjoy the finer things. (It’s also a time when Anderson chops the screen’s aspect ratio, to emulate movies of that era.) Mostly, they all come to this hotel for the services of the concierge Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), whose idea of “the personal touch” extends to sometimes bedding his elderly female clients.
When one of those clients, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), dies suddenly, Gustave learns she recently rewrote her will and left him a priceless painting. When her awful relatives, led by the greedy Dmitri (Adrien Brody), accuse him of murdering the old girl, Gustave and his lobby-boy in training — the young Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) — go on the lam, with a police inspector (Edward Norton) and Dmitri’s hitman (Willem Dafoe) on their trail.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” rides on the talents of two brilliant performances. One is the newcomer Revolori, who is marvelously deadpan as he observes his mentor Gustave navigate narrow escapes, prison confinement and coach-class accommodations. The other is Fiennes, usually known as a dramatic heavy (as a ruthless Nazi in “Schindler’s List” or as Lord Voldemort in the “Harry Potter” films) but showing impressive skills here as a nimble comedian.
With a rich cast of characters — if there’s a performer you’ve ever liked in a Wes Anderson movie, odds are good he or she has a small role here — Anderson creates a fast-moving and funny tale brimming with eccentric touches. He also paints moving portraits of two lost eras, the prewar decadence of European nobility and the gloomy anonymity of the Soviet satellite states, and the dread of the awful history in between. The result is as offbeat as any of Anderson’s films, but more heartfelt than most.
‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’
Director Wes Anderson’s offbeat comedy, about a ’30s-era hotel and the attentive concierge who makes it run, is full of whimsy and a surprising emotional depth.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.
When • Opens today.
Rating • R for language, some sexual content and violence
Running time • 100 minutes.