On the surface, The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) plays with the absurd madcap tale against a dark, unforgiving political backdrop. Yet, further research revealed that Wes Anderson‘s masterful film held an acute commentary about the world that the writer Stefan Zweig left abruptly. Moreover, Zweig as a man echoed in the illustrious and scrupulous (when it comes to decorum) concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes).
Wes Anderson’s auteur hand is immediately apparent in the color palette which is a varying set that he adheres to in each cinematic creation. The film opens with the camera framing centrally a cemetery with a young, unformed, nerdy girl perched beneath the open arch entryway. She has come to pay homage to the “Author” at his memorial sculpture. “Author” (Tom Wilkinson) comes into view to act a narrator recounting a special encounter at The Grand Budapest Hotel in the republic of Zubrowka. Young “Author/Writer” (Jude Law) expresses curiosity about a particular guest Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) supposed to be the owner of the dilapidated establishment. Mr. Moustafa proceeds to enrich the worn hotel with his first affiliation and a harried series of events during his time as a lobby boy named Zero.
Worthy of an Academy nomination, Ralph Fiennes as the concierge M. Gustave exudes the precision and refinement his guests represent and seek to maintain. When not performing, his strict standards of excellence also lead him to impatience to anything vile or rude. M. Gustave entertains the aging doyens of the bourgeoisie in delights beyond the sugary confections from Mendel’s. These women return his attention with handsome gifts and access. Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) is the audience’s introduction to one such benefactor. Nervous and macabre, Madame D. convinced of her imminent demise should she return to her manor, implores to stay. True to form, Madame D. pallid face and splayed body grace the front paper days later announcing her murder. Out of loyalty and concern that she be tended to in refinement, M. Gustavo and his newly vetted lobby boy and sidekick Zero (Tony Revolori) rush to her estate.
Last-will-and-testament open questions draw a cast of characters to learn if the wealthy Madame D. proved generous to their pockets. Feuding interests propel the film forward to determine rightful recipients. M. Gustave becomes embroiled into these affairs, and Zero supports his mentor in the quest.
Both M. Gustave and Zero are without family. Zero more blatantly is a refugee and viewed as a outsider in this mostly Caucasian republic. Yet, M. Gustave is a man tied to rules of society and etiquette which may be assumed by any orphaned person. It defines a culture to those that may not have a sense of community. It is here that Stefan Zweig’s shadow is evident. Austrian writer Zweig (b. 1881 – d. 1942) had achieved a foothold as German-language writer. His writing gifts granted him distinction even though he did not have the lineage of someone like Thomas Mann‘s ancestry. Yet with each whisper of violence and foreshadowing as it pertained to the growing Nazism in Germany, he fled farther and farther away from the events. From Austria to England to the US and finally committing suicide in Petrópolis, Brasil, Zweig leveraged his literary network to continue his retreat from annihilation. M. Gustave has the same sense of a specialized network to call upon in dire straits. Both Zweig and M. Gustave have little in the way of weighty possessions to slow their frenetic movements and journeys. Both had an expectation that proprietary would supersede negative forces from taking root and spreading. Zweig firmly held hope that the German people would thwart the Nazi ideology. It turned out that violence begat violence to subdue Hitler’s master plans. M. Gustave also supposed that reason and appeal for rationalism would keep the wrong machinations at bay.
The decay and emptiness of Grand Budapest Hotel in the 1960s highlights that times swept away those older institutions even if undeserved. The space itself contains the memories for as long as people remember.