CANNES, France – In Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom," the famously meticulous director takes his fastidiously fashioned world and flings it into the woods.
Even a relatively loose Anderson film is more ornately composed than most dollhouses, so no one should expect cinema verite in his latest fable. But there is — gasp! — actual handheld camera work in "Moonrise Kingdom," a story of pre-adolescent love on a rustic New England island.
For Anderson, whose previous film was the animated "The Fantastic Mr. Fox," it's a welcome return to the vagaries of live-action filmmaking.
"It was nice to have the sort of lack of control that you get on the set," Anderson said in a seaside interview in Cannes, where "Moonrise" opened the prestigious film festival before releasing in theaters May 25. "It's nice to go on location with a group. That's something I kind of missed."
"Your year takes a certain shape when you're making a movie," he added. "I like that."
Making "Moonrise Kingdom" was essentially sleep-away camp for Anderson's usual troupe of actors (Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman), as well as a few new inductees (Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand).
Shot on an island in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, the film is about a 12-year-old orphan (Jared Gilman) who runs away from his scout troupe — the Boy Scout-like Khaki Scouts, whose leader is played by Norton — with his young love (Kara Hayward), the melancholy daughter of a local family (Murray, McDormand). Set in 1965, it's a more innocent, quaint America.
While Anderson's movies — "Rushmore," ''The Royal Tenenbaums" — have often had a childlike sense of whimsy, "Moonlight Kingdom" is almost entirely from the perspective of the children. It started for Anderson with his own memory of first love, a mysterious new feeling he didn't act on, unlike his young protagonist.
"It's a memory of an emotion, but kind of a memory of a fantasy as well," says Anderson. "Everything that happens in the story is what didn't happen to me."
But there are many elements of Anderson's own experience in the film, too. Like Hayward's character, he found a parental guide to "troubled" children atop his refrigerator, terrified and ashamed to know it applied to him.
Anderson has, naturally, stocked the film full of carefully chosen accoutrements, like faux children's books with covers specifically designed by various contributors. But when the two kids set off into the wilderness, a more natural environment fills the screen.
Roman Coppola co-wrote the script with Anderson, helped tease out the story from a long-gesticulating concept of Anderson's, which had amounted to just 15 pages of material and some fragments. Coppola, who also co-wrote Anderson's India-set "The Darjeeling Limited," believes the director is increasingly looking for chaotic environments for drama.
"If you look at his desk, everything will be lined up in perfect rows, so there's something in his personality that's drawn to that sense of symmetry and order — it's somewhat who he is," says Coppola. "But I think recently, when I worked with him on 'Darjeeling' and this film, that he's drawn to situations and settings that have disorder just automatically."
Anderson says he often begins a film with only a small shred of an idea, like "Royal Tenenbaums," which started with just the image of a girl exiting a bus, and an unrelated scene of a meltdown on a tennis court. Such scant beginnings are all the more remarkable for the deeply layered finished films: "Tenenbaums" became a full portrait of an intellectual New York family a la "The Magnificent Ambersons."
"It always feels like the story exists somewhere and you're just discovering it," says Anderson. He recently finished a new script — one "particularly unrelated" to "Moonrise," he says — with unusual speed. It began from researching a real-life character that has little to do with the finished story.
While Anderson's films have often revolved around a clash of innocence with a cynical world, "Moonrise Kingdom" is his most stark dichotomy of adults and children. In the film, the grown-ups react variously to the children's gambit, with a chance for redemption for Willis' police officer.
"His adults are always kind of wrangling disappointment," said Swinton, who plays a bureaucrat simply called "Social Services," in a news conference at Cannes. "And this film, I think maybe more than any other film, the adults are the disappointed ones and the children, they've got the grail."
Schwartzman, a frequent collaborator with Anderson since "Rushmore" who considers the director his mentor, thinks his films are getting slightly deconstructed.
"I feel like Wes in each movie is examining, in a more intense way, an aspect of something that's in his own body and world," says Schwartzman. "And I think in other movies he's examined or played around with the idea of young feelings of love and feeling stuck or confused."
The wisdom of one of Anderson's characters comes to mind: Gene Hackman's rascal Royal Tenenbaum, who implored, with a glint in his eye: "I'm talking about taking it out and chopping it up."