We should all be so lucky as to live in a world designed, peopled and manipulated by Wes Anderson.
His latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, is a dark, daft and deft triumph of design details. From the hotel uniforms in purple velvet to the drinks, colognes and artwork of Europe between the world wars, Anderson ensconces his eccentric characters and us in a time of baroque, imaginary four-star hotels run on what used to pass for four-star service.
It's all about framing -- the odd aspect ratios Anderson plays with in the shape of the screen, elongated -- made-to-fit narrow rooms, tall elevators, funicular rail cars and tall actors like Ralph Fiennes, Jeff Goldblum and Tilda Swinton. Fittingly, the story is a framework within a frame, a tale told by a long-dead novelist (Tom Wilkinson) about what inspired his famous novel, a tall tale he heard as a younger man (Jude Law) from the owner, Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) of the gone-to-seed Grand Budapest Hotel.
And framed within that framing device is the long flashback to the old hotel owner's youth, when Zero Moustafa was "lobby boy" to the famed concierge, Monsieur Gustave, played with hilarious relish by Fiennes.
M. Gustave is all about service and good manners, maintaining "the faint glimmer" of civilization as war is about to break out all around the imaginary Republic of Zubrowka.
"A lobby boy is completely invisible, but always in sight," he lectures.
M. Gustave's attentions all go to the guests -- little old ladies that this perfumed and flamboyant dandy beds during their stay.
"I go to bed with all my friends," he croons. It's just part of the service.
But when a guest (Tilda Swinton in old-age makeup) dies and Gustave is in the will, the concierge faces his ugliest foes -- an heir (Adrien Brody) and that heir's murderous henchman (Willem Dafoe). Before this tangled knot unravels, Zubrowka will be invaded, Gustave will steal a famous painting and be framed for murder, and we'll see a prison break, a snowy chase on skis and sleds (filmed with miniatures and dolls) and a noisy shootout.
And the old hotel owner Mr. Moustafa will remember the love of his younger self (Tony Revolori): the birthmarked baker (Saoirse Ronan, in Scottish accent) who helped him try to save M. Gustave from the violence and bad manners and prison sentence threatening his happiness.
The Wes Anderson repertory company -- from Jason Schwartzman to Bill Murray -- went to Germany with him to film this funny fantasia. Many other faces familiar from indie and European film turn up in this quirkier-than-quirky movie, which is the greatest expression of Anderson's love of ornate buildings, old money, older furniture and tiny models.
"He certainly sustained the illusion with a marvellous grace," Mr. Moustafa eulogizes M. Gustave at one point.
That could be turn out to be the deadpan Anderson's epitaph as well, should this Czar of Surreal Silliness ever be so gauche as to die. Or retire.
-- McClatchy-Tribune News Service