Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA/Germany, 2014. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Indian Paintbrush, Studio Babelsberg, American Empirical Pictures, TSG Entertainment, Scott Rudin Productions. Story by Wes Anderson, Hugo Guinness, Screenplay by Wes Anderson, inspired by the works of Stefan Zweig. Cinematography by Robert D. Yeoman. Produced by Wes Anderson, Jeremy Dawson, Steven Rales, Scott Rudin. Music by Alexandre Desplat. Production Design by Adam Stockhausen. Costume Design by Milena Canonero. Film Editing by Barney Pilling. Academy Awards 2014. Golden Globe Awards 2014. Gotham Awards 2014.
Wes Anderson turns to the inspiration of Stefan Zweig for a glimpse of old-world European daintiness filtered through his own precious imagination. Author Jude Law visits a faded grand hotel in a fictional nation (located somewhere near The Lady Vanishes) in the late sixties and asks the establishment’s owner (F. Murray Abraham) to narrate the tale of how the building came into his possession. From there Abraham flashes back to the early 1930s, with Ralph Fiennes the lively and mercurial concierge caught up in murderous intrigue when one of the aged matrons he services in multiple ways (Tilda Swinton in octogenarian drag) dies and leaves him a priceless painting in her will. Fiennes is unjustly incarcerated for murder before busting out and finding himself and his plucky protégé (Tony Revolori) travelling across Alpine Europe with Gormenghastish relatives of the deceased (led by Adrien Brody) on their tail, while young Revolori develops a romance with a pastry chef (Saoirse Ronan) that comes in handy when looking to save his friend and boss from his conundrum. True to Anderson’s form, the strongest chords struck between characters are the forged paternal ties between a mentor and his charge, but the auteur seems to have left behind the resonance of his earlier films in favour of stylized imagery and precise visual construction. Gone are the pangs of confused adolescence, the struggle to establish one’s place in the world that hung over the school days of Rushmore or the family angst of The Royal Tenenbaums: here the style is the substance, and this hotel’s brightly painted walls are frequently tinged with dark brushstrokes (cold-blooded murder and the reality of a war-torn world fracturing) and darkly humorous ones (a concierge who loves getting blown by women over eighty), but not splattered with the emotionally convoluted drama of Darjeeling brothers trying to find their lost ties. What Anderson improves on from his muddled and shallow Moonrise Kingdom, however, is a precisely mapped out plot that moves at a zippy and spritely pace, humorous wit that really is outlandishly funny, and the use of a giant cast of familiar faces whose contributions amount to far more than just cameos (with the surprising exception of Edward Norton who manages, in only three scenes as an army captain, to somehow come off a complete amateur).