“Stefan Zweig was a dark and unorthodox artist; it’s good to have him back.”–Salman Rushdie
At the end of the latest impressive film from Wes Anderson, Grand Budapest Hotel, there is a credit that states Anderson was inspired by the works of Stefan Zweig. Zweig, a very popular author in Europe before World War II is little known in the West and published only one novel during his lifetime. This film is actually inspired by the one novel published during Zweig’s life and one published posthumously.
The movie brings us inside the titular hotel through a clever device at the outset and suddenly we are taken back to the 1960s. Jude Law is “Young Writer” and enjoying a sojourn at the Grand Budapest in the “off-season” when he encounters the property’s mysterious owner. F. Murray Abraham is “Mr. Moustafa” and little is known about him. They meet and Mr. Moustafa invites Young Writer to dine with him and promises to tell the story of how he came to own the hotel.
As he begins telling his story we are taken further back, to 1932. “Gustave H.” (Ralph Fiennes) is the concierge of the hotel and enormously popular with the wealthy guests who frequent it. In particular, elderly dowagers and straying wives of rich men. He sleeps with these women with a curious nonchalance that indicates he has mixed feelings about them. He discovers that a new Lobby Boy, “Zero” (Tony Revolori) was hired subject to his approval and after carefully scrutinizing the young man, he pronounces him acceptable.
All seems well until one of Messier H’s favorite clients dies suspiciously at home. “Madame D” (Tilda Swinton) has one son, “Dmitri” (Adrien Brody) and a large passel of ne’er do well distant relatives. They have gathered at her home to see if they are mentioned in her will. Messier H and Zero travel there so H can say his good-byes to his lover. What ensues is best left for you to enjoy.
There are certain things you know you will get in a Wes Anderson movie. You will be treated to whimsy. You will laugh. You will enjoy an interesting story, although some of his stories have been better than others. The recent Moonrise Kingdom was a masterpiece of writing and directing while The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is good, but not brilliant. You will almost certainly see Bill Murray, who has appeared in seven of the eight feature films from Anderson to date. It is worth noting that Murray’s role in this movie is limited but he makes the most of it. Owen Wilson will probably be involved with the film somehow, as he’s been in six of Anderson’s features and co-wrote one of the two he wasn’t in.
Anderson keeps using some of the same actors over and over, and this is not a bad thing. He works other actors into his “company” seamlessly and allows them to find the interesting characters he has shaped for them. Make sure you check in at the Grand Budapest Hotel.