THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (15)
EXTRAORDINARY and utterly absorbing, Wes Anderson's latest movie is a fairytale concoction of lavish sets, wonderful characters, sublime comedy (if that term can be applied to what is essentially a farce) and the most delightfully assembled cameo cast of star names, who all throw themselves into the proceedings with incredible gusto.
The result is 96 minutes of spellbinding movie magic.
Vaguely based on the writings of Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig, the film recounts the adventures of Gustave H who worked as a hotel concierge at the Grand Budapest Hotel, in between the European Wars.
Gustave is played by Ralph Fiennes, who steps into comedy as though he has been playing it all his life.
In one of the most watchable performances of the year, Fiennes steals the entire film from start to finish, which, considering the calibre of the supporting artists, is no mean feat (Owen Wilson, Harvey Keitel, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody and Bill Murray to name but a few).
Gustave becomes a mentor and trusted friend to lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) and their adventures in the realms of hotel land take up much of the story, which is packed with incident and never lets up on the constant surprises.
Zero is, in time, to become the hotel's owner (played in later years by F Murray Abrahams) and the film skips back and forth in time from present to the past with gliding ease, and interestingly, with film ratio sizes to accentuate change.
Gustave is the life, soul and heart of the hotel, loved by all the guests, especially the women.
Charming to the nth degree, his seduction of older, rich women, is a job 'perk' he pursues with great aplomb.
One such woman is Madame D (a hardly recognisable Tilda Swinton) who dies under mysterious circumstances.
When it is revealed she has left Gustave a famous painting in her will, Gustave suddenly finds himself suspect number one in the murder inquiry.
Wes Anderson has suffered recent criticism for his last few movies (Moonrise Kingdom, The Royal Tenenbaums). Disorder is a word which is used a lot to describe his work, chaos and brain scratching plot devices which require your mind to work overtime to work out what on earth is going on.
Here, there is no such confusion. The balance between chaos, comedy and an intricate plot is perfectly tuned, to the point where the film rattles through its relatively short running time with constant ease.
Added to that mix is a sumptuous visual feast. This film is simply gorgeous to look at and exquisite to experience, with a production elegance rarely seen on the big screen.
This is the perfect vehicle for the distinctive, stylised camera work of cinematographer Robert Yeoman. Despite its excess of production riches, and the liberties taken with the depiction of time, place and setting, Anderson manages to build in a very real subtext, of the impending doom which was to shatter all of Europe during the 1940s.
Situated in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka in the Austrian-Hungarian mountains, the Grand Budapest is destined to fall, along with the European aristocratic classes who so faithfully patronised the premises.
And, after the film has finished, don't be surprised to feel a deep, nostalgic sense of loss for that world, which probably never existed anywhere but on film.
But it's a world you will enjoy visiting again and again, thanks to the nature of the medium which preserves it.