Film review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

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I’VE called Ralph Fiennes many things in the past, but “irresistible” is not one of them. He’s always seemed wired for other things; villainy in Schindler’s List and Harry Potter, torment in The English Patient and The End Of The Affair. Even in his misbegotten rom-com, Maid In Manhattan, his default expression was a tight, pained one, suggesting moral constipation.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (15)

Ralph Fiennes in the Grand Budapest Hotel

Ralph Fiennes in the Grand Budapest Hotel

Director: Wes Anderson

Running time: 99 minutes

* * * * *

However, Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel uncorks a different Fiennes; hilarious, solicitous, appealing and decorously swearing in a manner that recalls Richard E Grant at his most Withnail. A film that combines creative profanity with a love of really great calorie-laden treats? No wonder it was chosen to open the Glasgow Film Festival.

M Gustave (Fiennes) is the pernickety concierge at a Ruritanian hotel, where in one continuous tracking shot, he moves through the lobby counselling, checking, correcting, and charming without breaking step. His attention to detail extends to ensuring that visiting dowagers get the best possible service, by gamely making love to them. His favourite is Madame D (an embalmed Tilda Swinton), who is by no means his most venerable satisfied customer. “84? I’ve had older,” he confides to his entranced lobby boy and protégé Zero (young Tony Revolori, then F Murray Abraham).

The plot skips from hotel to prison and to the mountains of Zubrowka as Gustave becomes implicated in a murder and the theft of a priceless painting, and is pursued by both the police (led by Edward Norton) and a widow’s ruthless rich family. Aiding the madcap chase are some of Anderson’s favourite stars, sometimes popping up for mere minutes to service a small bit of business like punctilious bellboys. They include Willem Dafoe as a knuckle-cracking henchman hired by Madame D’s son (Adrien Brody); Jeff Goldblum as the executor of the widow’s estate; Saoirse Ronan as Zero’s baker fiancée; and Tom Wilkinson and Jude Law as older and younger editions of the celebrated author who transcribes and publishes Gustave’s predicament.

But the game-changer is Fiennes’ M Gustave, who moves with the efficiency of a well-oiled dessert trolley, and who treats everyone with four star manners. Even when dividing a cake in front of four heavies in prison, he civilly requests that one of them pass the throat-slitter, in order to plate up. This fussy solicitude surely delights Anderson, since his career is also based on creating small, elaborate, precise worlds with Rushmore, Moonrise Kingdom and Fantastic Mr Fox.

Since this is an Anderson film, there’s a darkness at the edge of his fantasia. Gustave’s era of fastidious courtesy is about to be rendered anachronistic by a wave of fascism, which will drain the colour from millions of lives. It’s also a film about our own best times, and how we move on from them, or don’t. It’s these deeper notes, as well as the wealth of detail, that makes Anderson’s picture worth repeated viewing. Every shot is gorgeously framed, with screwball rhythms patterned after 1930s European ironists such as Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder. No wonder ornate patisserie plays such a key part in The Grand Budapest Hotel; this movie is a confection in itself – deceptively light, very rich, and decidedly moreish.

Twitter @SiobhanSynnot

On general release from Friday