In Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” released in 2014, Bill Murray does a cameo as a hotel concierge. That funny concept is one of the many delights of the film, which gives us a unique and thoroughly entertaining take on the European era that begins in 1932 and leads up to World War 2. The Grand Budapest Hotel, a pink and pastel beauty with a magnificent lobby and a dedicated old-school staff, recalls the glory days of high-end European hotels, where every minute detail of servicing the honored guests is scrupulously followed and the management insures that the hotel runs like a fine Swiss watch.
At the beginning of the film, sometime in the late 1960’s, Anderson introduces us to the interior of the now, almost completely empty hotel. A writer played by Jude Law notices an old man named Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) hanging around the lobby and dining room by himself. When they meet, Mr. Moustafa tells him a fantastic story about a brilliant Grand Budapest Hotel concierge named M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), the greatest concierge. In a flashback to 1932, we see the eccentric but very effective M. Gustave at work running the hotel. Everything about M. Gustave, from his constant monologue about proper service, to his impeccable knowledge of hospitality, resembles a familiar movie concierge type. However, M. Gustave also engages in constant affairs with the hotel’s female guests.
M. Gustave hires a Lobby Boy, Zero (Tony Revolori), who is the younger version of Mr. Moustafa. When Gustave hears that a beloved former guest, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), has died, Zero becomes Gustave’s confidant as they travel to her estate. At the reading of Madame D.’s will, attended by the usual blend of stuffy and greedy near and distant relatives, Gustave receives a prized painting called “Boy With Apple.” The gift outrages a nephew named Dmitri (Adrian Brody), who enlists his psychopathic assistant Jopling (Willem Dafoe) to get the painting back.
The police discover that Madame D. has been murdered, and they throw Gustave into prison. There, Gustave uses concierge methods to win over the other prisoners. At the same time, Jopling goes on a killing spree. The rest of the film involves the taking over of the country by a Nazi-like party and Gustave’s escape from prison. Zero and Gustave become close buddies as they work to avoid getting captured and clear Gustave’s name. Their salvation involves other concierges who spring to action when Gustave calls. Their members include Bill Murray and Bob Balaban, and a montage about their “call to arms” provides some very funny scenes.
The Grand Hotel Budapest gives us a nostalgic but not realistic look at pre-war Europe. Most of the characters seem real though, especially Gustave, whose view and knowledge of the hotel business must have been usual for the times. Zero (Mr. Moustafa) provides a bridge to an augmented past that feels real but exists only in the mind and celluloid of Mr. Wes Anderson.