Wes Goes East

‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’

Since most of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel is set in Eastern Europe between the two world wars, with that era’s turbulence represented by fascist troops closing and patrolling borders, one might conclude that the new movie is an atypical work for this filmmaker—a far cry from his usual apolitical stories about the whimsical friendships and neurotic families of upper-middle-class Amercians. But actually it’s just a case of plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The pernicious politics of the era is kept well in the background and doesn’t affect the main action until the very end of the movie. For the most part, Anderson has simply advanced further into Andersonland, a quaint but somewhat treacherous country where adults comport themselves like bright, cosseted children playing games according to their own secret rules and suffering poignant, often painful consequences.

Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), the concierge of the eponymous hotel in the mythical country of Zubrowka, is bequeathed an invaluable painting by an elderly aristocrat, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), whom he’s been sexually gratifying for years—as he has many...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.