Khaki-coloured scout on the run

By Fernando Ganzo

(leer en castellano / lire en français)

On the train, on the way to Cannes, the thought that one always goes to this film festival as if going to a war is back. It is inevitable. On previous days, you always try to get some sleep and to eat properly because you know you are not going to get much of that for the next two weeks. People always say (as if they had to justify their presence in the festival) that, for better or worse, Cannes represents what cinema is going to be for that given year. What it represents, perhaps, is what life is really about: people not eating well and not catching enough sleep—even sex is possibly worse during the festival. Everything is very expensive too, and very much regulated by constant (and increasingly aggressive) police checkpoints. A gripping feeling of both loathe and depression overcomes you, suddenly, when you realize that you have to face the very social decadence that you have been trying to escape from for much of the year: those elevator heels that seem to yearn for an extra pair of legs to show off an extra pair of even taller and most expensive shoes… Those man-made lips that you run into at the Rue d´Antibes and that are really like spit into your face... Bad TV is very much alive in the streets of Cannes.

Since this is about showing, even showing films (and about making them much more visible and about calling and clicking their titles as many times as possible), let´s just tell our readers about a filmmaker that likes to show things and that, aptly enough, opened this year´s festival: Wes Anderson.

What is at the heart of a Wes Anderson film? Which are his strengths and his commodities? Basically, his writing resorts on three elements: gags, gadgets and gagdets. and we all know what the first two are. There are very little gags in his films though, for he obviously feels much comfortable with gadgets. For instance: Ben Stiller´s tie machine in The Royal Tenenbaums («It’s cool, hein?»). Why does he use such commodity? Because it is useful for him in order to show things and, ultimately, to show himself. Wes Anderson is very much like the child that gets more pocket money from his parents than the rest of the children; it is not that he is more clever or kinder to his parents, and yet he gets more and he shows that money to his friends in the round shape of a Spalding leather soccer ball instead of the plastic one that everyone else is playing with. There is a problem with gadgets; being that the actor has very little to do with them (as expensive toys are best just to look at). What´s the benefit of the gag? That the actor is free to come up with ideas and formulate them in his own fashion (let´s create our own game!). An example of that can be found in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou: after a long speech, Bill Murray´s character introduces Anjelica Huston to who is, supposedly, his son (Owen Wilson). When she turns around, Mr. Wilson´s character pretends he had not notice her before and looks surprised. We laugh both at the gag and at Mr. Wilson´s expression. What is the gagdet? A mixture ofboth the gag and the gadget that was the true virtue of Fantastic Mr. Fox (in that way the film is very much a vehicle for gags) and The Darjeeling Limited; for instance: the bandaged face of the elder brother in that film (Owen Wilson again; hardly a coincidence). When they take off the bandage and we discover the brutal wounds that the character has to endure, the gagdet (the bandage) becomes the gag (“It will give you a lot of character”).

There is another problem to the gadget: it focuses too much on the colourful side of the character leaving the rest much behind. Children in Moonrise Kingdom are surrounded with gadgets (most notoriously a racoon hat, binoculars, a pair of huge glasses and several records by Françoise Hardy), and yet their characters come alive, none the less, because they are engulfed by their passions and yearning for the absolute. In short: the film depicts two failed attempts to run away. In the first one we have the orphan scout Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward), the eldest daughter of an Andersonesque family of geniuses formed by two lawyers played by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand. Once the first attempt to run away is aborted, we see the second one take place; one in which the rest of the scouts -another family of genius in their own way, minus the family ties- breaks away (for they have witnessed how the young lovers were painfully separated) and are determined to free them under growing fears that the orphan might end up (racoon hat and all), well, in an orphanage. Parents, offspring and tutors get carried away in their despair and they even shout aloud every so often! Perhaps the most exciting character in the film is that of the cop that listens to Hank Williams and adopts Sam, played by Bruce Willis, who delivers the finest performance by showing a careful constrain on his dramatic intensity (we never cease to be amazed by Mr. Willis´ creative intelligence—should direct films himself, or else give thorough interviews on acting).

Since the film lacks a few gags, we should focus on gagdets, as one of them brings about the funniest moment in Moonrise Kingdom; one in which the young lovers seek shelter in a tent on a beach. A quaint gagdet follows: the tent is actually a real house in miniature, and the gag erupts when they are tracked down by her angered parents and Sam zips up while the house disappears as Mr. Murray´s character raises the house (as if he was a giant or the cat in The Incredible Shrinking Man) and the young couple finds itself surrounded, halfway naked and in the open: the gagdet becomes the gag.

Just as Quentin Tarantino chopped and mixed up genres such as the western and war films in Inglorious Basterds, Wes Anderson is doing very much the same here with those two genres plus the adventure film. He needs a firm structure to work with, and just like the backbone of a road movie did it for him in The Darjeeling Limited, in here that structure prevents the film from becoming a series of opening scenes (and this happens too often in his films) that built up to, eventually, very little. This is not the case. There are no flat lines in this film in spite of the cut. What do I mean by the cut? Chopping up genres could be tricky business. If you are going to play Jean-Luc Godard you should know very well what you are playing with. For instance: Godard chops up, say, the comedy, and stops the game just as we are about to find out what game it is that he is playing—and yet it is still funny. When Mr. Anderson chops something up, we usually bleed.

It is just a pity that in Moonrise Kingdom Mr. Anderson is working with child actors, because he is perhaps the best at one thing: having his actors shouting out the most outrageous profanities in the English language and making it all sound wonderfully well. On the plus side we can speak of the excitement of the characters at their nudity, the obviously illegal audacity with which the camera dwells on young Suzie, the beautiful sexual metaphor when Sam punctures her ears and a trace of blood slips down her neck (on the opposite side, old age, as the Frances McDormand character is more neglected than actually developed.

Childhood usually stands for a rebirth of hope, a relentless faith in our eagerness to break away in our desire for the absolute. The final run away in this film ends with the Flood, their last shelter being a belfry—a desperate choice. And the ending (and in this case it does feel like there is something meaningful here) comes alive with the beautiful idea that there was no compromise at all when Bette Davies said in Now, Voyager: "Oh, Jerry, don't let's ask for the moon. We have the stars."

Translated from Spanish by Hugo Obregón

In competition (Opening Night)
USA. 2012. 94’
Director: Wes Anderson
Screenplay: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola
Director of Photography: Robert D. Yeoman
Editing: Andrew Weisblum
Sound: Pawel Wdowczak
Music: Alexandre Desplat, Leonard Bernstein,
The New York Philharmonic, English Chamber Orchestra,
Benjamin Britten, Hank Williams, Trevor Anthony,
Owen Brannigan, David Pinto, Darian Angadi,
Stephen Alexander, Caroline Clack,
Marie-Therese Pinto, Eileen O'Donovan,
Chorus of Animals, English Opera Group Orchestra,
Merlin Channon, Norman Del Mar,
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Camille Saint-Saëns,
Françoise Hardy, Franz Schubert.
Casting: Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray,
Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Jason Schwartzman,
Frances McDormand, Kara Hayward, Bob Balaban,
Jared Gilman, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Jake Ryan, Neal Huff.