To be fair, gentle reader, we probably weren’t sufficiently match-fit to see this film. Mrs Chrisparkle and I have been on our travels again and haven’t really been home long enough to regroup. Thus tiredness, jetlag, and upset tummies are still taking their toll. Nevertheless we went, as I was looking forward to this film as I’d seen the trailer last time we went to the cinema and it looked like it would be dashed funny.
And indeed it is. The Grand Budapest Hotel itself stands as a monument to faded glory in the heart of fictional Zubrowka, and its owner, Zero Moustafa, invites one of its few guests to have dinner with him in order to explain how he came to possess such an extraordinary building. The majority of the film is one long flashback, as young Zero, the lobby boy, accompanies charismatic concierge Gustave on their quest to prove Gustave’s innocence of the murder of Madame D, whilst securing her valuable painting – his inheritance – “Boy with Apple” – in the process. The plot takes many unlikely and wacky turns and moves at a fast and furious pace, including chases, prison break-outs, handling intimidating military police and a wonderfully ludicrous shoot-out across the landings of the hotel. Think Mel Brooks at his zaniest mixed with a touch of The Pink Panther, a hint of Feydeau Farce and all dressed up in classy art deco style and you have something of the feel of this film.
However, you also need to be fully alert and, above all, consistently awake to appreciate all its finer points. Hence my introduction above; unfortunately Mrs C and I spent the evening nodding off despite the fact that we were really enjoying it. You know that feeling when you just can’t keep your eyes open even though you desperately want to stay awake; so you risk a brief eyelid droop when you think nothing’s going to happen for the next minute or so, and you think you can still keep with the plot – and then you’re awoken by the rest of the audience suddenly laughing and you realise you missed a good bit. Well I had quite a lot of that.
It’s all delightful to look at with terrific attention to detail, capturing the hotel both in its heyday chic and in its latter-day distress. The script is wry, without ever being laugh out loud hilarious. It’s beautifully crafted with its mixture of screen aspect ratios and the music by Alexandre Desplat perfectly matches the story and characters. At the heart of the film is a wonderfully quirky performance by Ralph Fiennes as Gustave, the Clark Gable of concierges, elegant and refined, courteous and charming, but with the ability to burst the bubble of pretentiousness with uproarious coarse language when you’re not expecting it. Following him like a faithful bloodhound is 17 year old Tony Revolori as the young Zero – hilariously impassive while all sorts of ridiculous things happen all around him until he suddenly spurts into action – a bit like the cartoon dog Droopy but not quite so lugubrious. The only time Zero has to face up to his boss is when Gustave slides into flirtatiousness with Zero’s girlfriend, the lovely Agatha, played with gentle humour by Saoirse Ronan. The surrounding cast include such notables as Jeff Goldblum, F Murray Abraham, Jude Law, Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson, all of whom bring their own touches of magic to their roles.
It’s all purely for fun; there’s no great secret message hidden away for us to learn from, or innovative insight into the human condition, just a farcical cavorting around some Ruritanian backwater, and the happy news that the good guys win in the end (at least temporarily). I’m sure it’s even better than I have described – but I was probably asleep through those bits.