THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (M18) / 100 minutes / Opened on Thursday
The story: A young writer (Jude Law) is recuperating at the decaying Grand Budapest Hotel when he meets its reclusive owner, Mr Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham). The enigmatic older man tells the writer the story of M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), concierge at the hotel in the glory days of 1932, before the war would change Europe, making the hotel and all that it stood for irrelevant in modern society.
This fabulous jewel box of a film contains so many pleasures it is hard to know where to begin the unpacking. It begins as a piece of camp. An old hotel behind the Iron Curtain has become home to a motley cast of Eastern European types, there to seek refreshment in severe spa treatments that only a communist could love.
But then, director and co-writer Wes Anderson gets serious when the film flashes back to 1932 (after first flashing back to the 1970s, when the unnamed young writer played by Jude Law meets the older Moustafa, played with genteel soulfulness by Abraham).
The young Zero Moustafa (up-and-comer Tony Revolori, bringing great comic timing to his part) is hired as lobby boy at the Grand Budapest and soon becomes an acolyte to the imperious but frighteningly competent M. Gustave, the concierge who seems telepathically linked to the needs of his guests, especially if they are old, female and wealthy.
Anderson's work (Moonrise Kingdom, 2012; Fantastic Mr Fox, 2009) has of late shown him to be less a director than a set designer with an enlarged brief.
His fascination with visual elements (in particular with stop-motion, miniatures, static composition and framing) made story and character feel like secondary concerns. It was not without reason that comedy show Saturday Night Live could perform a note-perfect parody of an Anderson film.
The Grand Budapest Hotel, however, gets everything right, coalescing all of Anderson's strengths (some would say fetishes) into a satisfying and coherent whole not seen since Rushmore (1998) or The Royal Tenenbaums (2001).
The Andersonisms are mostly here: The miniatures (the hotel's exterior and cable car, when seen in fond remembrance by the older Moustafa, and a ski chase sequence), handwritten notes, a boy (the young Moustafa) seeking the approval of a father figure (M. Gustave) and scenes composed with painterly care.
With the help of an ensemble of frequent collaborators (starting with Tilda Swinton and not necessarily ending with Bill Murray), Anderson evokes a fin de siecle setting laced with humour and love.
When the credits roll, such is the skill with which he has made a fictional time and place so real and complete that it is hard not to shed a tear at its passing.
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