“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” director Wes Anderson’s latest romp through the land of whimsy, returns to the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center this weekend. Don’t look for a serious delving into the brink of war in Europe, which provides the film’s setting. Instead, sit back and enjoy a ridiculously silly pastiche of farce and screwball comedy.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” opens with the nostalgic account by an esteemed author (Tom Wilkinson) from the fictional eastern European nation of Zubrowka of his sojourns at the landmark hotel of the film’s title. Director Anderson quickly folds us back from 1985 to 1968, when our unnamed author, a frivolous stand-in for the real Austrian writer Stefan Zweig (now played by Jude Law), met Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the elderly owner of the hotel.
From there the story careens back to 1932, when the Grand Budapest Hotel was run by its legendary chief concierge, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes).
M. Gustave, wafting the aroma of l’Air de Panache with every step, takes under his wing a new employee, the teenaged Middle Eastern refugee Zero, titled Lobby Boy (Tom Revolori). M. Gustave makes one of the more memorable of Mr. Anderson’s comically wacky characters. He seduces the rich, elderly ladies who visit the hotel and probably a few old gents as well. He runs the hotel with great efficiency and periodic poetic ramblings. He passes on ownership of the Grand Budapest Hotel to Zero.
Part of the fun of this madcap movie comes in the way well-known actors from Mr. Anderson’s stable of regulars pop up for cameos. Tilda Swinton hides under layers of wrinkles as Mme. Desgoffe-und-Taxis, while Adrian Brody plays her evil son, and Willem Dafoe his murderous henchman. Jeff Goldblum takes an all-too-brief turn as the executor of Mme.’s estate. The victim of a mysterious homicide, Mme. Desgoffe-und-Taxis leaves a priceless painting to her beloved M. Gustave, which serves as Mr. Anderson’s McGuffin, the insignificant plot device that Mr. Anderson hangs his story on. Ed Norton shows up as a goofy Prussian officer responsible for imprisoning M. Gustave once he is falsely accused of murdering Mme. Desgoffe-und-Taxis.
In much the way larger-than-life characters appear in Fellini movies, these characters exist primarily as icons of oddity. None develop into truly rounded characters. Saoirse Ronan plays the assistant baker who becomes Zero’s beloved, distinguished by a facial birthmark in the shape of Mexico. Once M. Gustave lands in jail, a flabbily bare-chested Harvey Keitel temporarily becomes one of his confederates. As part of the rescue operation that follows M. Gustave’s prison escape, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Bob Balaban, and Jason Schwartzman all take brief turns as fellow hotel concierges.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” turns a very dark period of European history into an occasion for ridicule and merriment. Some viewers may find that offensive or trivializing. I say more power to Wes Anderson for serving up an enjoyable cast of cartoon figures, who prove far more memorable than most of Hollywood’s comic-book-based superheroes.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Thursday, April 17, and Saturday, April 19, 7:30 pm; Friday, April 18, and Sunday, April 20, 4 pm, M.V. Film Center, Vineyard Haven. $12; $9 M.V. Film Society members; $7 ages 14 and under. For information and tickets, visit mvfilmsociety.com.