The Grand Budapest Hotel: The World Revolves Around M. Gustave H.

Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave H.
Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave H.

In Hugo Guinness’s introduction to The Grand Budapest Hotel’s screenplay, he talks of a friend he and Wes Anderson discussed in parks and cafés in 2007. He was witty, interesting and charming; he was soon to be Gustave. In 2012, Gustave became more than a discussion and imaginary friend. He became the character we know and love today: the bisexual concierge of a hotel in middle Europe on the outbreak of war. He goes on to say, “A plot was devised around him” and this is the basis for this article.

M. Gustave H. played by Ralph Fiennes, was a charismatic man living and working in the fictional place of Zumbroka at the outbreak of war. He is shown as showy, arrogant and meticulous in his work by keeping clients happy and making more come by charming everyone in his wake. In the screenplay he is described as such, “he is tranquil, perfectly composed and waiting. He is wearing the faintest hint of mascara”. His attitude is carefully calculated to be both restrained and camp, going from his strict behaviour at the hotel to swiftly berating Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) on her nail varnish choice. He is if anything a very complex character with the same doll-like surface many of Wes Anderson’s characters possess. He is merely the face of the hotel manufactured out of pride and old fashioned values and very much leaves his lonely victimised self at the door basking in a sense of complete falseness which in the end becomes him permanently as seen by him drinking with the women at the end. As Moustafa says, “he certainly sustained the illusion with marvellous grace” which really says a lot as Gustave is slowly pushed into more and more horrific situations: his client dies, he is humiliated and outed, he is put in prison, is hurt there, loses friends but still keeps up his façade of a calm concierge. These moments make him almost break the facade as shown when he shouts at Zero after the prison escape.

In James MacDowell’s article Wes Anderson, tone and quirky sensibility, he discusses Anderson’s presentation of characters throughout his films: “they (the characters) are treated with greater or lesser degrees of sympathy”. Which is true certainly throughout Anderson’s filmography we feel, sympathy for many of his trademark zany characters from Richie Tenenbaum all the way to Mr. Fox. As an audience we empathise, sympathise and potentially identify with these characters and Gustave is no exception. When Dmitri (Adrien Brody) confronts him in front of Madame D’s family, the audience sympathises, cringes and feels notably distressed for Gustave. The perfect façade is mainly shown when he goes back to his room where he insists on eating on his own every night.This rings back to Anderson’s 2012 film Moonrise Kingdom where Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) eats alone on his boat as he has no one else other than his affair with Mrs. Bishop (Frances MacDormand) showing his life just as sparse. Gustave’s series of encounters with needy, old, rich blondes are meaningless and provide him with no company to eat his dinner with. His room is as boring and empty as Zero’s hinting that perhaps his past is not as perfect and composed as he has become. Unlike Zero though, he makes no effort to sit with them at dinner he always leaves to eat after he gives his sermons to the general staff. He makes no effort to become friends with his colleagues, and perhaps, that too is used to hold up the illusion. Unlike Captain Sharp, for Gustave it stays this way he dies with the knowledge Zero and Agatha are married, but still alone, simply continuing the same behaviour. We never know if he was truly happy or if he was just continuing his façade, slowly becoming faded grandeur just like the hotel itself was.

Gustave with his Disciples
Gustave with his Disciples

Gustave is the beating heart behind the Hotel’s success drawing in the wealthy socialites. These socialites are mainly old blondes which foreshadows what Gustave becomes before his death. The entire place revolves around his work whether and bringing in his particular brand of guest (the rich old blonde patrons). These guests too rely on status; they are rich, typically blonde persons who go there to feel important and wanted. As Mr. Moustafa says to Author “they had to be rich, old, insecure, vain, superficial, blonde, needy”. However, the main parallel here occurs towards the end when Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) says, “he was the same as his disciples: insecure, vain, superficial, blonde, needy. In the end he was even rich…he did not succeed, however, in growing old.” Gustave himself wanted to feel important, he wanted to be wanted by the hotel guests, he wanted to officiate at Agatha and Zero’s wedding which he did. He became included and learned things off them that they learned from him. It seemed to be Zero and Agatha were the only true friends he had and he died relatively happy knowing that. He was shot for disputing the soldier’s belief that Zero was travelling on wrong documentation. His power, by then was faded.

Consequently there seems to be an irony then that Gustave, a man who the plot was written around, the beating heart of the hotel, is killed off in such unspectacular fashion away from the place he contributed so much to. Gustave’s death may just be one of the most melancholic elements of the film. It is quick, as it has been relived many times and almost clinical and devoid any of the emotion or meaning death brings most. In the end he died and his old fashioned ways of charm and charisma die with him as signified by the orange décor of the hotel. He was the glue that held the grandeur together, and even with Zero’s best efforts, it fell apart once Gustave was gone.

Works Cited

Anderson, Wes “The Grand Budapest hotel screenplay“. Faber and Faber. 2014

MacDowell, James “Wes Anderson, tone and the quirky sensibility“. Routledge. 2012

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. If there ever was a standard definition for an actor making the movie, it would be called Fienneing it. I hated his character the first five minutes he was on-screen, then I liked him, and by the end I loved him and wished the movie was longer! 

    • wierdbuthatsok

      I agree he was incredible. At first I was thinking oh wow he is so arrogant and then slowly, (especially after the scene where Dmitri attacks him you) really start to like him.

  2. Lu Waite

    Fantastic Mr. Fox was my favorite of his movies, until I saw Moonrise Kingdom and liked that even better.

    • wierdbuthatsok

      I thought the exact same way “The Grand Budapest Hotel” may just be my favourite though! although after that it has to be either Moonrise Kingdom or The Royal Tenenbaums.

  3. I hate this movie and I think it’s for self-aggrandizing pompous asses, a slightly more mature Harry Potter crowd, but equally asinine.

    • wierdbuthatsok

      fair enough, we all enjoy different things.

    • So wanting to use the brain given to you by whatever creator or lack there of, is classified as “self-aggrandizing?” See this is what is wrong with the youth these days. I guess you can’t watch Citizen Kane. Or Twin Peaks the series? Oh know, too intellectual. This is the excuse people give when they want to be lazy and not learn.

      I hate to attack but lately the sheer idiocy I am seeing from people is astonishing. Because you do not understand a film doesn’t mean you should bash it. It’s much healthier and better to try to learn so that in the future you can understand it.

      Same as me when I was a child and read Shakespeare. You think I understood it? The older I get, the more I learn, the more I get the literal and the analogies.

  4. Ralph Fiennes fleshes this character out in the most amazing way!!

  5. It’s interesting how the movie has three layers of frame story and two narrators, none of which involve Gustave, and yet he is still, as you suggest, the person who the story revolves around entirely. I can’t remember the last time a film character has stuck with me so much, and you really get a sense that he has impacted Zero (and by extension the Author) in the same way.

    • wierdbuthatsok

      He really was so important to both the films conception and the film itself. I agree with how you see his impact on Zero especially when you hear about Gustave’s death. honestly I was almost in tears especially after hearing about Agatha’s fate.

  6. Leanora Moye

    From the moment I 1st saw him in Schindler’s List I thought he was marvelous….saw Budapest Hotel, and Ralph is STILL totally great.

    • wierdbuthatsok

      I saw this movie and then immediately he was in “Salting The Battlefield” (the third and final Johnny Warracker instalment) as a corrupted prime-minister. He was incredible in everything, Ralph is an extremely talented man!

  7. Tidwell

    Personally I found this movie absolutely hilarious and had to rewind so many parts. I formerly had TWOWS as the funniest movie I’d seen all year but this surpassed it. Ralph Fiennes was just brilliant as the concierge.

  8. Joe Weber

    This was true cinema art. There is so little of it made anymore and the appreciation of which is dying out in a world of fast food super hero action flicks.

  9. Loved the movie. The statue of writer

  10. The guy is great at making quirky movies with awesome quirky characters. Near brilliance!

  11. Nice article. Movie is a near masterpiece for me.

  12. Grand Budapest is a brilliant film, of the highest quality; it was not made for everyone to enjoy though but brilliant nonetheless.

  13. I think I’d have to nominate Gustave H as my favourite Wes Anderson character. I agree that he’s an embodiment of the glory days of the Grand Budapest and the pre-war Eastern European heydey it represents. I don’t know if you are familiar with Charles Baudelaire’s concept of the dandy, but Gustave definitely reminded me of this, a figure that Baudelaire describes as “the last flicker of heroism in decadent ages”. In his own flamboyant way, I think Gustave stands in for an age of grace and beauty before WW2 ravaged Europe. Nice article!

    • wierdbuthatsok

      He is my favourite too. Something about that whole faded grandeur thing always endears me to characters like that. By all rights he should never have been around as long as he was. He is such an emotive character by the way I love your observation it’s very on point.

  14. Ethan Lau

    Great article! I do think it nearly crosses the line of being pretentious, which may cause some to dislike it, but in my opinion, it never crosses that line and only ever flirts with it. Comedic breaks help to break down the serious and uptight atmosphere of the film. Truly a beautiful and great piece of art.

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