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Tom Wilkinson, Tony Revolori, (center) and Owen Wilson (right), in ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’. (AP)
Actor’s dry wit, cheerful profanity lift ‘Budapest’ Fiennes shows comic chops

One of the many surprises in Wes Anderson’s rich, layered and quirkily entertaining new film, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” is the emergence of a new comic actor, one with impeccable timing and just the right mix of gravitas and utter zaniness. Ladies and gents, meet Ralph Fiennes. You might not immediately think the man who played the tragic count in “The English Patient,” an evil war criminal in “Schindler’s List,” a violent Coriolanus, and oh yes, Voldemort, would be a natural in comedy. But he proves a deft, daft partner to Anderson in this, their first collaboration. The film itself is a madcap caper on one level. On another, it’s a look at a dying world, and way of life, in the period between the two world wars, with the specter of totalitarianism looming. Just like the fictional hotel in the title, the movie is a meticulously constructed confection, featuring the extreme attention to detail that Anderson is famous for.
 
The Grand Budapest Hotel is set in a spa town in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka, somewhere in eastern Europe. It’s a place where wealthy older women come to be pampered. That’s where Monsieur Gustave (Fiennes) comes in. An old-school concierge, Gustave lives to please his customers. And so the services he provides (wink wink) go beyond simply making sure the flowers are fresh and the soft drink chilled. Gustave is persnickety, pompous and vain. But he’s committed to doing his job as well as it can be done. He’s indeed a creature of a fast-disappearing Old World.
 
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Or rather, behind ourselves, because the film hopscotches between three time periods. We begin in 1985. A middle-aged writer (Tom Wilkinson) is recalling his stay at the Grand Budapest some 20 years earlier. Suddenly we’re back in 1968, in the hotel, which is a shell of its former glory — it’s an ugly, post-Communist relic, with really bad furniture. That same writer (now played by Jude Law) encounters the hotel’s mysterious owner, Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who offers to tell him his story. Which brings us back in time again, to the years between the wars, when the hotel looked like a strawberry-frosted wedding cake. Mr. Moustafa is now a young lobby boy, Zero (Tony Revolori) an ambitious lad whom Gustave takes under his wing.
 
Swipes
The plot gets going with the death of Madame D — an 84-year-old, extremely rich dowager countess (Tilda Swinton, barely recognizable in amazing makeup) and former lover of Gustave. Turns out she’s left him a priceless painting. But her imperious son Dmitri (Adrien Brody, having fun here) won’t have this smarmy concierge get a piece of the family fortune. Gustave swipes it anyway.
Gustave is eventually caught and sent to prison camp, where, with a fellow inmate (Harvey Keitel, no less), he plots escape. They make it out, leading to more amazing chases, involving motorcycles, a mountain cable car, a ski jump, a bobsled run, and a confession booth in a monastery. There’s a wild shootout across hotel balconies. And there’s the funniest scene in the film, a montage of old-world concierges across Europe, banding together to try to help Gustave.
 
You’ll spot Anderson regular Bill Murray here, as well as Jason Schwartzman and, in a quick moment, Owen Wilson. Edward Norton is funny as a determined military police chief. Willem Dafoe is Dmitri’s ultra-violent henchman, and Jeff Goldblum the unfortunate lawyer who runs afoul of him. Saoirse Ronan is young Zero’s girlfriend.
But in the end it’s Fiennes who makes the biggest impression. His stylized, rapid-fire delivery, dry wit and cheerful profanity keep the movie bubbling along. Here’s to further Fiennes-Anderson collaborations.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” out in limited US release on Friday, is in part inspired by Anderson’s own experiences of living in Europe, the works of Austrian author Stefan Zweig, and paying homage to an era where tradition reigned supreme.
 
“Each year I spend a pretty good part of the year in Europe for the last 10 years or maybe more, so this is for me a chance to do a story that relates to my own,” Anderson said in his soft hybrid accent that masks any hint of a Texas drawl.
“It’s related to my own adventure of being abroad, of being a foreigner abroad in a world, and my own sense of discovering new things,” he added, reclining on a sofa in a Beverly Hills hotel, in one of his trademark light brown suits.
Texas-native Anderson, 44, has become synonymous with his quirky, dark comedies such as 1998’s “Rushmore,” 2001’s “The Royal Tenenbaums,” 2004’s “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” and his 2009 adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox” that have drawn a cult audience.
 
Trademarks
For his devoted fans, “Grand Budapest Hotel” offers up all of his trademarks - satirical comedy, eccentric characters, an odd-ball love story and visually detailed settings.
“The reason I wanted him (Fiennes) is because I thought he is the person who can take this character and not just do a turn with it. He can make this a real person,” Anderson said.
The film spans different time periods, flitting between the 1960s and the 1930s, in order to shape a narrative based on a “story within a story within a story,” Anderson said. When one particular old, rich dame, played by a heavily transformed Tilda Swinton, bites the dust, Gustave and his trusted new lobby boy Zero (played by newcomer Tony Revolori) find themselves in a caper involving the heist of a priceless painting, ruthless henchmen, a stint in prison, pastries and the intriguingly mysterious Society of the Crossed Keys. At the center of the film is the pink 19th century Grand Budapest Hotel, of which an intricate miniature model was built for many of the landscape and exterior shots.
 
The rest was filmed in a turn-of-the-century gothic-style department store located in the German city of Goerlitz, on the Polish border. “My sources for all the visual stuff is old photographs, these old images and it’s really gathering ideas from research,” the filmmaker said. “It’s usually a surprise to me, what happens when you mix these chemicals together.” The aesthetic of the Grand Budapest Hotel, located in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka, hearkens to the decadence of a bygone era, where old money and culture reigned supreme. Monsieur Gustave is an extension of the hotel himself, embodying its traditional beliefs, and both are challenged by a world changing quickly around them.
 
“That’s a reality that existed; wars came and ways of life changed, and in that part of the world, there were political changes that altered everything. That’s what the movie’s about a little bit. That’s the backdrop,” Anderson said. Last year, Anderson found his biggest hit with “Moonrise Kingdom,” which earned him his third Oscar nomination for best original screenplay, and made more than $68 million at the worldwide box office. With his next, yet-to-be-titled project already in the works, (Anderson declined details, saying it’s too early to describe yet), the director said he’s finding himself drawn to conjuring up earlier eras. “Each movie I do, I feel like is in some way, a bit picking off where I left off in the last movie, and so I have a feeling it might have some connection to the past,” he teased of his next project. (Agencies)
 
 By Jocelyn Noveck

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