Set in and around a faded Eastern-European hotel in the distant mountainous state of Zubrowska, this purports to be a memoir from a significant meeting during a quiet holiday, which furnished a story of love and war, burglary and prison, loyalty and improbable murder.
The story is helpfully divided up into chapters by 1920s-style titleboards, giving some structure and sense to the madness. Suspension of disbelief is an absolute requirement throughout (seldom has a mass gunfight caused so few casualties, or a prison-break quite so many; though it's pleasing to think there may really be a secret society of hotel proprietors) and the action is often reminiscent of cinema of the 1930s, which is the timeframe where much of the film is presented. Every set is very obviously a set, with little attempt at 'realism' - it sometimes looks and feels rather like a maddened Hitchcock creation.
The work of art that is pursued by Ralph Fienne's character is a bit of a McGuffin really; just a means of creating interaction and conflict between the improbable characters - neurotic dowagers, psychotic enforcers, officious yet world-innocent attorneys, and unfortunate cats.
Every reel of the show presents another very, very famous actor in a sometimes scarcely-recognisable cameo or smaller role - often quite different from anything we have seen from them before. Of them all though, the razor-sharp comic timing and cleverly crafted physicality of Ralph Fiennes as the hotel proprietor Monsieur Gustave, holds the story together most brilliantly.
This was a cheerful, massively entertaining film; very offbeat and whimsical - it's unsurprising that it is gathering a lot of critical acclaim at the moment.
Great film work Messieurs Anderson (director) and Yeoman (cinematographer).