|Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight|
“The Grand Budapest Hotel’s” protagonist named Monsieur Gustave H, the fastidious concierge at the heart of the film, is portrayed by Ralph Fiennes, a two-time Oscar® nominee for “Schindler’s List” and “The English Patient.” Director Wes Anderson says his eighth feature film comes from a mix of inspirations including the pre-code comedies of the 1930’sand the stories and memoirs of Viennese writer Stefan Zweig. Anderson set his tale in a fictional spa town in the imaginary country of alpine Zubrowka, for which he created not only a complete visual aesthetic but also a cohesive 20th Century history mirroring Eastern Europe, with a fascist takeover in the thirties and a Communist period after that –but also a more distant past in the vein of the belle epoque.
At the beginning of the movie, the Young Writer played by Jude Law finds himself in conversation with the enigmatic Mr. Moustafa, the hotel’s owner, who sets about relating the story of how he rose from the ranks of junior lobby boy to become the proprietor of the Grand Budapest under the tutelage of Gustave.
Underneath all of Gustave’s superficial fastidiousness is a kind of basic emotional core, a devotedness, sentimentality and affection that provide much of the story’s emotional center. Observes co-star Edward Norton, whose character is in pursuit of Gustave: “Gustave is up there with the greatest characters Wes has created and nobody could have played it more perfectly than Ralph. Gustave is contradictory – he has this incredibly haughty self-righteous view of proper values and at the same time he is ferociously loyal. He’s like a glimpse into an old world right before it disappears.”
The main action of the story kicks off with the sudden and mysterious death of 84-year-old dowager countess Madame Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe und Taxis, a.k.a. Madame D. In the role of Madame D. is Tilda Swinton, who won an Oscar® for her work in “Michael Clayton.” For this part, Swinton had to spend almost five hours each morning in hair and makeup in preparation to play the 84-year-old widow. Anderson notes, “With Tilda, we had this chance to age her, and I think she really enjoyed doing that, and helped make it something special. I feel like she really latched on to how to play this person at that age.”
Madame D.’s death sets in motion a scramble to lay claim to her vast fortune. Leading the charge is her son, Dmitri, the film’s ruthless and darkly comic main villain, played by Adrien Brody, who previously starred in “The Darjeeling LImited.: “He’s the bad seed, he’s the one who causes the trouble – and he was really wonderful in this role of Dmitri,” says Anderson.
Brody says of the character: “Dmitri is powerful and greedy, a man used to getting what he wants. M. Gustave is a threat to this. It is revealed that he was the much younger lover of his mother, who she ultimately bequeathed her fortune to, so wouldn’t you have it in for him? Everything about Dmitri is dark: his clothes, hair, thoughts and attitude. The beauty of comedy is that you can heighten all of these qualities to the point where they become amusing. The objective was to find a balance between being legitimately ominous and also hilarious – Dmitri had to be both.”
Dmitri also has an accessory: a henchman named Jopling, a thug in a leather coat, brass-knuckles and high-heeled boots, who is portrayed by Willem Dafoe. Dafoe says that despite his previous work with Anderson, the script for “The Grand Budapest Hotel” was surprising. “I thought it was really interesting, almost a throwback to Lubitsch and Wilder comedies, with a caper quality and all these characters coming in and out,” he says. “Wes captures a spirit that is so appealing.”
It didn’t surprise Dafoe that the script attracted such a strong and award-winning cast. “It’s unusual in today’s cinema for a director to have the heavy personal stamp Wes does so a lot of people want to work with him,” he explains. “It makes for an extremely creative atmosphere.”
Playing Deputy Vilmos Kovacs, the attorney representing Madame D’s estate, is Jeff Goldblum, who previously worked with Anderson on “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.” Goldblum highlights some of the cultural and political elements at work in the film:“Monsieur Gustave is a rare and spectacular light of hope and inspiration – courteous, generous and refined – in this world in which fascists are coming to power,” he says. Indeed, Dmitri and his cohort are headed down a path toward fascism, and this is one of the elements that flesh out the antagonism between him and Monsieur Gustave.
Norton also points to some of the unique behind-the-scenes camaraderie on the production. “I think for a lot of actors in my generation, Wes has been a kind of polestar of personal creative vision. He does something that is uniquely heartfelt, yet hilarious. Wes’s films are a lot like this story in that they create an alternative kind of family, which is very romantic for actors. The cast is a blend of some of Wes’s old gang with a new gang and there was great camaraderie. It was almost like he cultivated among the cast and the crew the feeling of The Society of the Crossed Keys – the concierges of all the great hotels of the world – who have this complete sense of unity when called upon.”
When the law does catch up with Gustave, he finds himself in the least imaginable of places for a man of his sensibilities: Check-point 19 Criminal Internment Camp, a dank, medieval-era prison, surrounded by barbed wire and a moat full of crocodiles. He soon befriends four fellow inmates and winds up at the center of an elaborate escape plot they’ve cooked up. The brains of the plot is Ludwig, an especially rough, tattooed convict with a bald head, played by Harvey Keitel, who also appeared in “Moonrise Kingdom,” and for whom Anderson wrote the part.
"The Grand Budapest Hotel" will be shown exclusively at Ayala Malls Cinemas nationwide starting April 19 (Black Saturday).