The Cannes film festival kicked off its 65th edition not, as usual, with a Hollywood blockbuster, or the latest in 3D animation, but with a gentle, charming, at times dark evocation of childhood by American indie director Wes Anderson — whose own boyhood provided some of the material for this lopsided look at innocent first love.
When he was a boy, the director of Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums said, he found a pamphlet titled Coping With the Very Troubled Child on the fridge. “I wasn’t the only child in the house, but I knew which one was the very troubled child. If my brothers had found it, they would not have looked at themselves.” The pamphlet makes its appearance in Moonrise Kingdom in the hands of 12-year-old Suzy, who makes a bid for freedom from the family home armed with a suitcase full of storybooks and a pair of left-handed scissors.
More than that, the film, an old-fashioned children’s adventure cut through with the disappointments and ennui of adulthood, uses “the memory of what I wanted to have happened, and the memory of the emotion of falling in love as a kid, which is something that has never left me and I hope people will share,” said Anderson.
The story is set on a rocky, sparsely populated, pine-dotted island off the coast of New England in 1965. There are no roads and only one policeman on this idyllic isle (in a piece of sly casting, the lone cop is played by cinematic hard man Bruce Willis, who, as co-star Bill Murray pointed out, does eventually “have his Die Hard moment”). Things go awry when Sam, a boy encamped with a scout troop, goes missing. So too does Suzy, the daughter of local family the Bishops (played by Murray and Frances McDormand).
A star-studded ensemble piece, the film also features Edward Norton as the hapless but well-meaning scoutmaster; and Tilda Swinton as a character who simply introduces herself, and is referred to, as Social Services. These high-flown actors were required to provide, according to Norton, “our own hair and makeup and costumes.” There were no trailers or the “trappings” of Hollywood filmmaking. Instead, he said, it was “like summer camp. Wes plays the role that I do in the film as scoutmaster, marching us through our skills and leading us off on an adventure.” According to Swinton, the experience was “like being invited to a family wedding.”
But the film really belongs to the children, newcomers Jared Gillman and Kara Hayward. The search for the pair took months and thousands of auditions. Thirteen-year-old Hayward immediately impressed Anderson, he said, with her uncanny ability to sound “like she was making up the dialogue herself.” In one of the more self-possessed statements by an actor debuting at Cannes, Gillman, also 13, said it had “clicked sometime in elementary school that I would like to be an actor.”
Moonrise Kingdom was the first film to screen in competition for the 2012 Palme D’Or. A further 21 are to come over the next two weeks. It is a strong year for Cannes’ favorite European auteurs: Ken Loach, Michael Haneke and Cristian Mungiu are in the running, along with David Cronenberg and Abbas Kiarostami. Stars such as Nicole Kidman, Brad Pitt, Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson will tread the red carpet.
But a sour note has been struck by the fact there are no female directors in the competition lineup. According to British director Andrea Arnold, whose films Red Road and Fishtank have screened in past festivals, and who sits on this year’s jury: “It is a great pity because women are half the population and have voices and things to say about the world that would be good for us all to hear.”