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97 of 109 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Grand Budapest Hotel and Stefan Zweig, 21 April 2014
This review is from: The Grand Budapest Hotel [DVD] (DVD)
Writers and concierges are at the center of director Wes Anderson's nostalgic film, "The Grand Budapest Hotel". Most of the film is set an a large, pink facaded, luxurious hotel, the Grand Budapest, on mountain peaks in a fictitious European country, Zubrowka, during the years leading up to WW II. When the film opens, the hotel has fallen upon hard times with only lonely writers and intellectuals as patrons in a quest for solitude. One of the hotel's few patrons, a visiting novelist, strikes up a conversation with a mysterious individual who proves to be the hotel owner and a long yarn unfolds. The film features three generations of concierges, the young man on duty when the story begins, the primary character and the concierge during the time of most of the story, Monsieur Gustav H, (Ralph Fiennes), and his young refuge protégé and eventual owner of the Grand Budapest, Zero Moustapha (Tony Revolon as a boy, F. Murray Abraham as an elderly man).

The plot is a mixture of action and mayhem. Gustave H. is a suave successful concierge who manages to bed many of the elderly dowagers staying at the hotel. When one of these women dies under suspicious circumstances, she leaves Gustave a near-priceless painting while her family tries to frame Gustave for the murder. Gustave and Zero become fast friends and allies and try to protect and clear themselves. In the meanwhile, shadows of war cross Europe and the Grand Budapest Hotel.

The fast-paced plot has its light elements similar to the pastry concoctions which contribute a great deal to it. It has a distinctly nostalgic feel for a Europe which, as one character remarks, had already essentially disappeared at the time the action took place. The impending war is never far from the action in this movie, with storm troopers, death squads, and soldiers intervening and forming the course of the story at critical points. The film was shot in Germany and the staging and visual effects are lovely and the acting, particularly by the Fiennes highly in character for the time and place.

The end credits indicate that the film is based loosely on the life and work of the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig (1881 -- 1942) Zweig was a thoroughly assimilated nonreligious Jew whose writings were highly popular before and during WW II. Beginning in 1933, Zweig travelled throughout the world on an Austrian passport. He never could quite bring himself to believe that the elegant, cosmopolitan world he loved had vanished. With the outbreak of WW II, a depressed broken Zweig ultimately settled in Brazil where he and his wife committed suicide in 1942.

An article by the French writer Anka Mahlstein in the May 8, 2014, New York Review of Books, discusses the revival of interest in Stefan Zweig as shown by a new biography and by "The Grand Budapest Hotel". Mahlstein sees Gustave H. (rather that the writer who narrates the film) as the Zweig-influenced character with what she aptly describes as "a trim little paintbrush mustache, shifty eyes and a supple grace to all his movements, comfortable mastery of all languages, a certain latitude in his sexual tastes, and an overall sense of calm broken here and there by glimmers of disquiet." As did Zweig, Gustave H. in the film falls victim to the end of a refined, elegant secure and learned culture. The fun and mayhem in the film has deeper hues and a strong sense of loss.

The film is a pleasure to see. It becomes more than a work of entertainment and glitz when seen in the context of the life of Stefan Zweig.

Robin Friedman
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Location: Washington, D.C. United States

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