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The Grand Budapest Hotel is rated 15 for strong language, sex references, brief gory images. The film is available on DVD.
A girl sits on the snowy steps of a memorial to a great author, reading a book entitled The Grand Budapest Hotel. In flashback, we meet the author (Tom Wilkinson), who begins to explain how the book came into being. As a younger man (Jude Law), staying in the crumbling Grand Budapest during the 1960s, he met the hotel’s owner, Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham). In his turn, Zero relates his own youth as a lobby boy during the hotel’s golden years.
Young Zero (Tony Revolori), an immigrant in the middle-European Republic of Zubrowka, is taken under the wing of the hotel’s flambouyant concierge Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). When one of Gustave’s elderly lovers, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), dies, she bequeaths him the priceless painting Boy With Apple – leaving him in hot water with her grasping family. Zero and Gustave take off with the painting, setting off a series of comic escapades which play out against the shadowy backdrop of a coming war.
- Did you enjoy the film, and why or why not? If you have seen any other films by Wes Anderson, how did The Grand Budapest Hotel compare? Which themes and what kind of characters seem to interest him?
- What did you make of the design of the film? What visual clues – including changing aspect ratios – help to reflect the different time periods? How might the design of the Grand Budapest reflect the character of Gustave?
- Why do you think Anderson chose to use several framing devices before getting to the meat of the story? What is the impact of having multiple narrators and multiple timeframes?
- How did you feel about Gustave, and Ralph Fiennes’ performance? How would you describe the character, and what makes him unique? What drives Gustave throughout the story, and what are some of the big internal contradictions in his personality?
- What did you make of Zero, in both his younger and older incarnations? What does he learn from Gustave, and how did you feel about their friendship? How has he changed over the course of his life?
- Some critics have accused Wes Anderson of prioritising style over emotional substance. Did you find the film emotionally engaging, and why or why not? In your view, do the stylised elements of Anderson’s films help or hinder emotional engagement?
‘Since when are the movies supposed to create a convincing simulacrum of reality? American cinema, which remains the medium’s dominant model, hardly ever does and hardly ever has.’ – Critic Andrew O’Hehir
- Do ‘realistic’ films contain more reality and truth than ‘stylised’ ones, and why or why not? In what sense might art which highlights it own artificiality actually be more honest? How might art bring us closer to truth by letting us see it from a distance?
- What does the film have to say about the value and the danger of nostalgia? Do you think the kind of world represented by Gustave and the Grand Budapest ever really existed, and why or why not? Why do we, as humans, tend to hark back to the past – and how might this relate to our ‘cosmic nostalgia‘ for a perfect world?
- How significant is encroachment of the (unspecified) war to the story of The Grand Budapest Hotel? How might the film have been different without this element, and why do you think Anderson chose to include it? What different approaches have artists taken to tackling the subject of war, and how does Anderson’s approach compare?
‘When staring down the barrel of something as crushing as the rise of fascism, choosing to focus on things that make other people’s lives more beautiful is a very particular kind of protest.’ – Critic Drew McWeeny
- What kind of ‘protest’ does Gustave make, via his attitudes and actions, against the rise of fascism? What approach to people and the world does Fascism represent, and how is it in contrast with Gustave’s?
- In what sense is Gustave ‘a glimmer of civilisation in the barbaric slaughterhouse we know as humanity’? How does the film reflect different aspects of human nature, and how might it define ‘civilisation’? What values are represented by the Grand Budapest, and to what extent are these moral values?
- Does the film show Gustave’s particular weapons as being an adequate defence against evil? What power do ‘irony, frivolity and unshakable charm’ have against the real darkness in the world? What deeper value, if any, do these things have to human existence?
‘His world had vanished long before he entered it. But he sustained the illusion with a marvellous grace.’ – Monsieur Ivan (Bill Murray)
- Does the film show goodness and grace to be an illusion, an enduring reality, or neither, or both? What kind of tragedy is represented by the ending, and what kind of hope – if any – are we left with? What might it mean to live ‘with a marvellous grace’ in our own world, and would it be an illusion to do so?