It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
An odd thought occurred to me a few hours after I saw writer/director Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel" for the first time. It was that Anderson would be the ideal director for a film of "Lolita," or a mini-series of "Ada." Now I know that "Lolita" has been filmed, twice, but the fundamental problem with each version has nothing to do with ability to depict or handle risky content but with a fundamental misapprehension that Nabokov's famous novel took place in the "real world." For all the authentic horror and tragedy of its story, it does not. "I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art," Humbert Humbert, the book's monstrous protagonist/narrator, writes at the end of "Lolita." Nabokov created Humbert so Humbert might create his own world (with a combination of detail both geographically verifiable and stealthily fanciful), a refuge from his own wrongdoing.
"The Grand Budapest Hotel" uses a not dissimilar narrative stratagem, a nesting-doll contrivance conveyed in a blink-and-you'll-miss-a-crucial-part-of-it opening. A young lady visits a park and gazes at a bust of a beloved "Author," who is then made flesh in the person of Tom Wilkinson, who then recalls his younger self in the person of Jude Law, who then recounts his meeting with Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the owner of the title hotel. Said hotel is a legendary edifice falling into obsolescence, and Law's "Author" is curious as to why the immensely wealthy Moustafa chooses to bunk in a practically closet-size room on his yearly visits to the place. Over dinner. Moustafa deigns to satisfy the writer's curiosity, telling him of his apprenticeship under the hotel's one-time concierge, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes).
All of this material is conveyed not just in the standard Wes Anderson style, e.g., meticulously composed and designed shots with precise and very constricted camera movements. In "Hotel" Anderson's refinement of his particular moviemaking mode is so distinct that his debut feature, the hardly unstylized "Bottle Rocket," looks like a Cassavetes picture by comparison. So, to answer some folks who claim to enjoy Anderson's movies while also grousing that they wish he would apply his cinematic talents in a "different" mode: no, this isn't the movie in which he does what you think you want, whatever that is.
What he does is his own thing, which in terms of achievement is on a similar level of difficulty to what Nabokov kept upping the ante on in his English-language novels: to conjure poignancy and tragedy in the context of realms spun off from but also fancifully, madly removed from dirt-under-your-fingernails "reality." M. Gustave is a didact of high-level service, schooling young Zero Moustafa in the art of understanding what a guest wants, and getting it to the guest, before the guest has even thought of it. He wears a scent called "Eau de Panache." He's also a ludicrous horndog and gigolo, and his troubles begin when the wealthiest of his dowagers (Tilda Swinton) dies and leaves him a strange painting. The dowager's impossibly evil son (Adrian Brody) wishes M. Gustave to get nothing, and will stop at nothing to see to that. His determination sets into motion a series of intimidations and assaults that's complicated by the rise of an ostensibly Fascist power in the often-candy-colored Middle-Europe Bohemian Theme Park Anderson and his production designers conjure up here. (Since I've invoked Nabokov twice in this review, I really ought to emphasize that the movie itself credits the writings of Stefan Zweig, the Austrian writer whose wry, poignant autobiography was titled "The World of Yesterday," as a primary inspiration.)