By Piya Sinha-Roy
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif (Reuters) - Old rich dames, angry henchmen and one very punctilious hotel concierge make up the fantasy world at the center of Wes Anderson's whimsical caper that evokes a bygone era of aristocratic hierarchy and opulence.
"The Grand Budapest Hotel," out in limited U.S. release on Friday, is in part inspired by Anderson's own experiences of living in Europe, the works of Austrian author Stefan Zweig, and paying homage to an era where tradition reigned supreme.
"Each year I spend a pretty good part of the year in Europe for the last 10 years or maybe more, so this is for me a chance to do a story that relates to my own," Anderson said in his soft hybrid accent that masks any hint of a Texas drawl.
"It's related to my own adventure of being abroad, of being a foreigner abroad in a world, and my own sense of discovering new things," he added, reclining on a sofa in a Beverly Hills hotel, in one of his trademark light brown suits.
Texas-native Anderson, 44, has become synonymous with his quirky, dark comedies such as 1998's "Rushmore," 2001's "The Royal Tenenbaums," 2004's "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," and his 2009 adaptation of Roald Dahl's "Fantastic Mr. Fox" that have drawn a cult audience.
For his devoted fans, "Grand Budapest Hotel" offers up all of his trademarks - satirical comedy, eccentric characters, an odd-ball love story and visually detailed settings.
British actor Ralph Fiennes leads a star-studded cast that reunites some of Anderson's frequent collaborators, such as Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Bill Murray.
Fiennes makes his Anderson film debut as Monsieur Gustave, the meticulous, impatient, flamboyant concierge of the hotel with a penchant for seducing old, rich widows.
"The reason I wanted him (Fiennes) is because I thought he is the person who can take this character and not just do a turn with it. He can make this a real person," Anderson said.
The film spans different time periods, flitting between the 1960s and the 1930s, in order to shape a narrative based on a "story within a story within a story," Anderson said.
When one particular old, rich dame, played by a heavily transformed Tilda Swinton, bites the dust, Gustave and his trusted new lobby boy Zero (played by newcomer Tony Revolori) find themselves in a caper involving the heist of a priceless painting, ruthless henchmen, a stint in prison, pastries and the intriguingly mysterious Society of the Crossed Keys.
HEARKENING THE PAST
At the center of the film is the pink 19th century Grand Budapest Hotel, of which an intricate miniature model was built for many of the landscape and exterior shots.
The rest was filmed in a turn-of-the-century gothic-style department store located in the German city of Goerlitz, on the Polish border.
"My sources for all the visual stuff is old photographs, these old images and it's really gathering ideas from research," the filmmaker said. "It's usually a surprise to me, what happens when you mix these chemicals together."
The aesthetic of the Grand Budapest Hotel, located in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka, hearkens to the decadence of a bygone era, where old money and culture reigned supreme.
Monsieur Gustave is an extension of the hotel himself, embodying its traditional beliefs, and both are challenged by a world changing quickly around them.
"That's a reality that existed; wars came and ways of life changed, and in that part of the world, there were political changes that altered everything. That's what the movie's about a little bit. That's the backdrop," Anderson said.
Last year, Anderson found his biggest hit with "Moonrise Kingdom," which earned him his third Oscar nomination for best original screenplay, and made more than $68 million at the worldwide box office.
With his next, yet-to-be-titled project already in the works, (Anderson declined details, saying it's too early to describe yet), the director said he's finding himself drawn to conjuring up earlier eras.
"Each movie I do, I feel like is in some way, a bit picking off where I left off in the last movie, and so I have a feeling it might have some connection to the past," he teased of his next project.
(Editing by Eric Kelsey and Lisa Shumaker)