For his latest, Wes Anderson goes elliptical. The Grand Budapest Hotel‘s murder-mystery narrative is nestled within a trio of framing devices: a girl reading a book, within which the author recounts a conversation with the hotel’s owner, Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), about the latter’s younger days as a lobby boy in the 1930s. Intrigue comes from two sources: the mystery itself–young Zero (Tony Revolori) helping his flamboyant, bisexual mentor Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) clear his name in the death of a guest, a money-grubbing son (Adrien Brody) and his Gestapo henchman (Willem Dafoe) lurking on the edges–and the encroachment of World War II into the film’s fictional country, signaled by Edward Norton as a sympathetic, rank-and-file fascist with a goofy mustache. Anderson avoids making the narrative as convoluted as that description with his usual snappy banter and a ceaseless momentum which recalls Hitchcock’s spy thrillers.
Zero is swept up in these events, but quickly adapts into an active participant, helping formulate the means by which Gustave escapes imprisonment. The two occasionally get adversarial–Zero falls in love with a pastry chef named Agatha (Saoirse Ronan), constantly warning Gustave, “Don’t flirt with her”–but the barbs mask a deeper bond between them. Zero’s a refugee, driven from his home by death squads; Gustave is considered an aberration (“That fucking faggot,” Brody yells), barely tolerated until more impersonal goose steppers arrive. Shared statelessness draws them together, represented in the hotel they work for–a blue/gold/orange Art Nouveau structure almost too vivid to be real, much like Anderson’s dioramas (the atrium is actually the remains of a German department store). Alienation and connection between people have been important to Anderson’s films (here marked with a motif of two people, sitting across from each other, eyes locked), but Grand Budapest Hotel sees him use his deliberate artificiality to extend these themes in a broader direction. The framing devices start from the present, reaching back to the past in storybook fashion. The Girl connects with the Author with Zero with Gustave. Maps are redrawn, countries go through war, buildings are destroyed or abandoned, people wither and die, but time is constant. Moving us away from and towards each other.