I don't think it's any secret that I adore a grand hotel, especially if it's full of character and history, even if it's a little seedy. So the prospect of one of my favourite directors, Wes Anderson, creating a movie entitled The Grand Budapest Hotel was likely to set my heart thumping.
It took me a while to get to the cinema, this being one film I did not want to watch on a plane, so I played with the completely adorable website (grandbudapesthotel.com) for a few weeks in anticipation.
Having just returned from a Saturday afternoon session, I can now report that the film is nirvana for hotel junkies, an utterly captivating, imaginatively detailed and brilliantly art directed tour de force about the sentimental attraction of a former lobby boy to a once-magnificent alpine hotel that declined in the 1960s to Communist-run dilapidation.
Margaret Pomeranz gave it five stars and called it "the most exhilarating piece of cinema in recent memory". (David, ever curmudgeonly, withheld half a star.) I'd give it six. Everything I love about grand old hotels is crammed into 100 hilarious and touching minutes, including obsequious concierges, bellboys in camp uniforms, eccentric guests and vast, bustling lobbies.
Like Wes Anderson, I have a great affection for eastern European hotels that have perhaps seen better times, preserved in all their dusty glory through decades of neglect.
There aren't that many of them left, as the insidious march of hotel development (and modern interior design) jackboots its way through the lobbies of the old Austro-Hungarian empire.
Finding the right degree of extravagant but worn opulence is getting harder and harder. These days, hotel guests just don't seem to have a taste for taxidermy, flock velvet drapes and heavy wood panelling. I don't know what's wrong with them.
That's why Wes Anderson had to invent the hotel of his dreams. In the tradition of the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo and the Hotel de Londres in Paris, the Grand Budapest Hotel is not in Budapest but in the fictional alpine state of Zubrowka. For the filming, locations were found in Gorlitz in Germany's Saxony region. This beautiful lobby of the hotel, with its glass atrium, was in fact the ground floor of a magnificent old art nouveau department store in that city. The rest of it was confected in a studio.
One of Anderson's inspirations is the old Hotel Gellert in Budapest. I haven't stayed there, but once visited its famous Turkish bath. While it wasn't quite as unpleasant as the grim spa baths in the 1960s-era Grand Budapest Hotel, there was something distinctly rundown and mouldy about it. You can't beat those eastern European masseuses for giving you a real rattling. Unfortunately, I'm reliably informed the Gellert's guest rooms are more Holiday Inn than alpine fantasy.
By the way, if you want a really grand Budapest hotel, you might try the Gresham Palace on the Danube. It's now part of the Four Seasons group and has had an expensive restoration, but happily the magnificent art nouveau stained glass ceiling in the lobby and the room decor still evoke a time when people moved into a hotel for a whole season.
Anderson and his cast cite the Grandhotel Pupp in Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic and Hotel Carlo IV in Prague as inspirations for the film, but I've checked them out online and they both have had modern facelifts, as have classic hotels such as the Adlon in Berlin, the Imperial in Vienna and Istanbul's Pera Palace, where Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express in 1933.
A famously disreputable east European hotel is the Athenee Palace, Bucharest, which features in novelist Olivia Manning's wonderful Balkan trilogy. Once a hothouse of Nazi and British spies, the intrigue continued through the Cold War era, with the government bugging the rooms andthe maids instructed to rifle through guests' drawers. I once went to its famous English Bar for a drink. But it's now a Hilton and there are no signs of skulduggery. This is a very sad state of affairs. The closest any of us may get to staying in a hotel like the Grand Budapest is to bring our pillows to the cinema.