by Richard Gould
Wes Anderson is one of the few acknowledgedly-great directors whose work I just don’t get. Where many see an insouciant charm and laser skewering of the uppercrust, I find only a grating preciousness, with endless mugging center-screen for the camera. I mention this only to encourage others who might feel similarly (we’re the minority) to take a chance on THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, which kept me thrilled and spellbound from its opening frames. That spell–ptured by Lubitsch, but missed by so many others who’ve tried–is Old Europe. The high-ceilinged Grand Budapest, jewel of the Republic of Zubrowka, has fallen on hard times since communism–its lobbies and Turkish baths and creaky funicular chug along nearly empty of people. Through its doors after a long absence returns the owner, Zero (F. Murray Abraham), taking rooms in the shabbiest servant’s quarters and surfacing only to dine. A nameless author (Jude Law) gets his ear and Zero opens up to him about how he came to inherit the hotel between the wars–when Zubrowka was at its most magical and the hotel was a stately pleasure dome, teeming with older women who could profit from a concierge’s personal touch. His former boss Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) charmed them all, and had life changed by one of them. A painting is involved, and a disputed will, and a friendship that endures the perils of prison, freelance assassins and a militarizing Europe. Seldom, if ever, has such an artificial confection shown a whole continent with more depth or beauty. Or humor: Move over Kevin Hart–Fiennes is the funniest man on Earth.