Imitating an onion, writer/director Wes Anderson peels layers of stories from the facade of a palatial hotel in the nostalgic magnificence of pre-communist Europe.
Characters converge from different eras, as if time were a pack of cards, and the narrator, high on hindsight, is a brown-skinned youth spinning a tale as tall as dreams.
Making sense of it may be compared with unravelling a melange of metaphors. What matters more than comprehension is style and there is so much of it here your mind cartwheels with delight and your eye dances like fire.
The plot plays tricks. Is this about Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), the concierge at an opulent hotel in 1932 who is accused of killing a rich old bat (Tilda Swinton) and stealing her prized painting, or is it an imaginative conceit, like a fiction within a fiction, to entertain a young writer (Jude Law) who became the country’s most famous (Tom Wilkinson) in later years?
Who knows? Who wants to know when the film is reminiscent of the great silent comedies, dazzlingly inventive with the added ingredient of an eccentric script.
Its cartoonish construct is played with pantomimic perfection by Fiennes and a cast of stars in cameo roles. Hey! There’s Bill Murray! Oops, he’s gone. Was that Owen Wilson with his hair glossed back? Sorry, missed it. Who is that bald, half naked convict? The voice is familiar. Harvey Kietel? NO!! And the brutal killer with Dracula fangs? It has to be... It can’t be... He played Jesus in Scorcese’s Matthew gospel. It is!!
Anderson is known for the quirky (The Royal Tenenbaums), the odd (Moonrise Kingdom) and the funny maybe (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou), but this caps them all.
It is a film to cherish, relish and embellish (with cardboard hearts and tangerine kisses). It makes you believe in the beauty and wonder of moving pictures again.