Look out, most prestigious and glamour-drenched international movie showcase/market in the world! The Americans have taken over the 65th Festival de Cannes. They have rolled out the big guns and the big talent — and no, I don’t mean that the festival has been anchored to the premiere of some e-ticket popcorn showpiece like Robin Hood or Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, as happened in recent years. (This year, the token Hollywood vulgarity is Madagascar 3, which has so nothing to do with this festival that no one has to pretend.) The films with the featured slots, the ones generating the most buzzy energy in the competition roster, the ones that everyone is excited to see because they may be good movies, lean toward brash and brawny American subjects and/or sexy American talent.
The Brazilian director Walter Salles, for instance, is here with On the Road, the long-gestating adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s seminal car odyssey and gorgeous Beat prose spill, starring Kristen Stewart, Garrett Hedlund, Viggo Mortensen, and Amy Adams. The Canadian director David Cronenberg is here with Cosmopolis, starring the British heartthrob Robert Pattinson as — wait for it — a corrupt American millioniare assets manager making all sorts of trouble during a limo ride across New York. Then there’s Killing Them Softly, which reunites director Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) with Brad Pitt, plus new films directed by Lee Daniels (Precious), Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter), and Wes Anderson (marking his first Cannes opening-night appearance with Moonrise Kingdom). Even the year’s signature festival image is straight out of Hollywood. Adorning posters everywhere along the Croisette is a luminous photograph of Marilyn Monroe, taken on her 30th birthday, the most luscious lips in the universe gently parted as she blows out a single white candle on a creamy white coconut cake. The image, redolent of “Candle in the Wind” (and of the the angel Monroe who blew out her own candle), salutes the 50th anniversary of Marilyn’s death, in 1962, but it’s also an homage to the American mystique that has always hovered there in the starry night of Cannes (even though Monroe herself never attended).
Of course, it’s not as if international cinema is under-represented this year. With highly anticipated new films from the Austrian creep-out artist Michael Haneke (Amour), the Italian tabloid sociologist Matteo Garrone (Reality), the bleakly sensational Romanian neorealist Cristian Mungiu (Beyond the Hills), and the Thai structuralist dream spinner Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Mekong Hotel), Cannes has assembled a scrumptious global smorgasbord. But there’s a reason, I think, that even festival executives are playing up the U.S.A.-is-here-and-that’s-terrific angle. It’s a give-back following the year of The Artist — the silent movie, made by a Frenchman, that pretended to be an American movie, and sort of was. It was discovered at Cannes and went on to win the Academy Award, thus beaming out the image of a world stage full of Gallic talent (led by the class-hunk-as-diplomat élan of Jean Dujardin, looking like a Continental Gene Kelly) in a way that transformed what the words “French film” really mean. I’m not comparing The Artist, as cinema, to Breathless, but like that Godardian explosion half a century ago, it mixed the French love of old American films into an art-house cocktail that bridged these two movie-mad nations with a newly defined harmony. There are years when the American presence at Cannes is like a calculated family visit, or even an intrusion. This year, it already feels more like a dance, a vision of cultures in swing time.
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If you look at their work over the course of, say, 15 years, even the most stubbornly personal of the European art-house giants — Bergman, Godard, Fellini — nudged and massaged and evolved their styles throughout their careers. But Wes Anderson, a decade and a half after he made Rushmore, hasn’t changed a bit. With the sole exception of his marvelous 2010 animated fable Fantastic Mr. Fox, he has clung to his special, rarefied, Salinger-meets-The Graduate-meets-music-video-meets-Wendy’s-commercials whimsicality as if it were under glass, which in a sense it is. What has changed is Anderson’s place in the culture. At the time of Rushmore (1998) and The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), claims were made — valid ones, I think — that he was a defining voice of his time, an irony-generation heir to Scorsese and Woody Allen. But his cult has been steadily dwindling, even if he hasn’t noticed it. A new Indiewire headline blares, “Why the Delectable ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ Will Please Diehard Wes Anderson Fans.” They should have added, “And Maybe No One Else.” The cult remains every bit as passionate (possibly more so), but they’re now awed by Anderson in a kind of auteurist echo chamber.
In Moonrise Kingdom, an orphaned Khaki Scout named Sam (Jared Gilman), in owlish glasses and a yellow-kerchiefed, merit-badge-laden uniform, goes AWOL in the meadowed wilds of Penzance Island, and he’s not alone. He has invited along his pen pal, a very pretty girl named Suzy (Kara Hayward), who wears blue eye shadow and carries a portable record player. She’s running away from home, and the two, who look to be about 12 or 13, have concocted a plan to meet up and wander as a kind of romantic great escape. Are they in puppy love? That’s the idea, though in Anderson’s hands, their relationship remains an abstract fantasy of tremulous young romance — which is okay in theory, because that’s sometimes what very young romance is. Yet all these two really have in common is their junior Wes Anderson acerbic innocence. Sam, who says everything with invisible quizzical quote marks, kept bringing to mind Marten Holden Weiner’s studied oddball performance as Sally Draper’s friend-and-maybe-more on Mad Men, and Suzy, though we keep being told that she’s “troubled,” seems merely distant and wise beyond her years in a nonchalant way.
The two wander, they dance on the beach to a ’60s French-pop yé-yé song, and they’re pursued, with increasing frenzy, by everyone else in the movie, including Frances McDormand (at her most shrewish) and Bill Murray (at his most disgruntled) as Suzy’s unhappy parents, Bruce Willis as a benign cop, Edward Norton as an officious scoutmaster, and Tilda Swinton as a woman known simply as “Social Services.” A lot happens in Moonrise Kingdom — at one point, a major character is struck by lightning. But moments later, he gets up, his face singed with black powder, and he starts to talk in flippant epigrams again. For some viewers, I guess, this may be movie heaven, another pictorially precise, bric-a-brac-jammed bauble to place alongside The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited. Personally, though, I wish that Anderson would come out from under the glass, or at least change what he’s doing under there.
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