x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

A matter of taste for Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson, the director of Moonrise Kingdom, is known for his unique and personal approach to movie-making, something which is again showcased in his latest whimsical offering.

Bruce Willis plays a lonely, sad, insecure policeman in Wes Anderson's film Moonrise Kingdom. Courtesy Focus Features
Bruce Willis plays a lonely, sad, insecure policeman in Wes Anderson's film Moonrise Kingdom. Courtesy Focus Features

Personal style: it means a lot to Wes Anderson. From Rushmore to The Royal Tenenbaums, his films ooze it, from the costumes and production design right down to the elegant fonts on those ornate title cards. So it's no surprise that when Anderson, 43, walks into the Carlton Beach restaurant in Cannes, he's elegantly attired in a rust-coloured corduroy suit. Inside his jacket pocket is a neatly folded newspaper; Anderson is not a man who looks likely to embrace the iPad revolution anytime soon.

Indeed, his latest film - like so many of his others - is awash with nostalgia for a bygone era. Set in 1965, Moonrise Kingdom is set around a local community on a small archipelago off the coast of Rhode Island. With America having witnessed the shocking assassination of JFK two years earlier, and with the Vietnam War under way, Anderson saw it as a tipping point. "I started to think 1965 was the end of an innocent period of American social life - the end of an innocent season in America."

Not that Moonrise Kingdom is political - far from it. But it is a film that deals in the end of innocence, albeit in the most gentle fashion. At its heart is Sam (Jared Gilman), a 12-year-old orphan Boy Scout who feels like a cousin to Rushmore's precocious protagonist Max Fischer. Drawn to local girl Suzy (Kara Hayward), he entices her to run away with him, an act that sends her parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) into spasms and leads the local sheriff (Bruce Willis) and the scoutmaster (Edward Norton) to organise the search team.

"The children in this story are the ones that know what they want, more than the adults," says Anderson. "They're maybe a little more efficient in getting what they're after. They don't allow anything to stop them from doing what they want."

This being a Wes Anderson film, however, it's all very tasteful and chaste. "It's a fairly low, innocent degree of sexuality, if you even want to call it that," says Norton. "They're dancing to Françoise Hardy [the song Le Temps de l'Amour] in their underwear!"

You might just retitle the film Paradise Found, as these prepubescents bathe in the flush of first love, with Anderson drawing from the Benjamin Britten operatic adaptation of Shakespeare's evergreen love story A Midsummer Night's Dream. "[It was] my memory of the emotion … a feeling like you've fallen in love at that age," he says. "That's sort of the inspiration for the whole thing."

For a long time, Anderson stalled on the idea, until in came Roman Coppola, the son of Francis and one of Anderson's co-writers on his 2007 India-set The Darjeeling Limited. "Before he came to help me, I had only 15 pages for the script," Anderson says. "I was struggling to make it into a story." Adds Coppola: "He had all these images, notions and feelings, but it was just bottled up." A series of workshop sessions saw Coppola question Anderson. Like a therapist? "I wouldn't use that word," says Coppola, "but it's not dissimilar."

What emerged was a story that once again sees Anderson study family life, a perennial theme across his seven films to date. There are some beautiful details - note the way McDormand's mother rounds up her kids with a megaphone - and there are some poignant ones. Glimpsed in the film, Anderson remembers finding a pamphlet on his own refrigerator entitled Coping with the Very Troubled Child. "I wasn't the only child in the house, but I knew which one was the very troubled child. And I think if my brothers [Eric and Mel] had found it they would not have looked to themselves. It's not a great feeling."

He grew up in Houston, Texas, where his father ran an advertising and PR firm and his mother worked in real estate. They divorced when he was eight, and Anderson became a problem child at school. But then he discovered film and began making mini Super 8mm movies in his backyard. "They were really terrible," he laughs. "That was at my most pretentious age. One of them was all about philosophers. That was bad news. That's where you're in trouble. An ensemble of eight characters, all philosophers ... it had action in it."

He met Owen Wilson at the University of Texas, and the two became writing partners on Anderson's 1996 debut Bottle Rocket. Wilson and his brothers, Luke and Andrew, were the first to join Anderson's ever-expanding repertory of actors - one that now includes Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Anjelica Huston. But, from Edward Norton to Bruce Willis, Anderson is always willing to expand his family. "Bruce Willis, I liked the idea of using his persona," says Anderson. "He's a policeman, but he's a lonely, sad, insecure policeman. No Die Hard. Just a taste of it."

Whether it's behind the camera or in front, if Anderson's films are all about the creation of families, surrogate or otherwise, it's curious that he's yet to start one of his own. "I've wanted to have children before," he says, a little sadly, "but not yet." In the past he's said, "If I wasn't so involved with these movies", he might already have kids, the impression being he's put his art before his personal life.

"Wes is trying so hard to live a life that is his own," says Schwartzman. "A life where you can fight convention." There's no better way of summing him up.

Moonrise Kingdom opens across the UAE today