Whatever the patchiness of the rest of its lineup, the Berlin film festival tends to start off with a bang, and this year is no exception: the world premiere of the new film from Wes Anderson , that master of archly sculpted dialogue and meticulous, retrofitted design. The arrival of The Grand Budapest Hotel  is particularly appropriate, for this is the moment in the Anderson oeuvre when he turns to consider all things Mitteleuropäische  – refracted, as a closing credit tells us, through the work of the prolific Austrian writer Stefan Zweig .
Zweig specialised in novellas – Letter from an Unknown Woman , Fear ,The Royal Game  – normally designed to illuminate some plangent melodrama in interwar Vienna. Without being a direct adaptation of anything specific, The Grand Budapest Hotel distils many of the story’s elements. Anderson has concocted what is essentially a Ruritanian picaresque, stuffed full of bizarre character studies, and fashioned with his, by now familiar, handcrafted attention to detail. In fact, like much of Anderson’s work, you get the feeling many of the scenes have been lifted directly from a sketchbook; certain sequences here are animated with little discernible effect on the general sensibility.
The central figure in the film is one Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes , on mercurial form), the concierge of the eponymous hotel, which is located not in Ruritania but an equally fictitious principality called Zubrowka. Gustave’s activities are relayed to us via the very Zweig-esque device of an itinerant novelist (Jude Law ) encountering the hotel’s mysterious owner, one Zero Moustafa (F Murray Abraham , playing the rich, sonorous tones card for all it’s worth), who unburdens himself of his childhood stint as a lobby boy back in the 1930s.
As seen through the eyes of Moustafa’s younger self (played by Tony Revolori ), Gustave’s mastery of the concierge arts includes regularly seducing the desiccated female aristocrats who throng the hotel in its golden age. One of these, played with customary searchlight-through-fog brilliance by Tilda Swinton, leaves Gustave a valuable painting in her will; her scowling, posturing family, headed by Adrien Brody  (who, it must be said, looks born to wear a hussar’s uniform), will stop at nothing to deprive Moustafa of his inheritance.
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