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(Moonrise Kingdom is being distributed in America by Focus Features. It opens on May 25, 2012. Visit the film’s official website to learn more.)

As self-contained and narcissistic as, well, Cannes itself, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom proved to be a perfect opener for the world’s most important festival in its venerable 65th year. If anything, the director’s return to live action filmmaking after the successful 2009 adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox only amplified his near-obsessive fastidiousness. So much so that Moonrise Kingdom can be counted as one of his best-controlled and most sustained efforts to date—even if after the movie is over you may feel you witnessed just one or two perfectly laid out shots of beautifully patterned paraphernalia too many.

Thematically closest to Anderson’s 1998 Rushmore, the new film is a story of an orphan Khaki Scout named Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman)—as precocious as he’s antisocial—and of the world he’s trying to create for himself in order to overcome the feelings of rejection. Smitten by the auburn-haired Suzy (Kara Hayward) when he sees her playing the part of a Raven in a ridiculously lavish church dramatization of the story of Noah’s flood, Sam decides to elope with her. Their brief time in the wilderness plays like a pint-sized version of Badlands, with some intimations of a subtle Blue Lagoon spoof, presenting the pre-teenage bliss as a chaste preliminary to whatever the changing bodies of the protagonists may have yet in store for them.

While the whole movie has the distinctly Andersonian feel of a lovingly assembled shoe-box composition, its first ten minutes are particularly accomplished in creating a separate, insular universe that is 1965 New England by name and a set of visual associations only (with Sam’s Davy Crockett coon cap serving as the prime period signifier). The entire boy scout environment (which goes by the name of “Camp Ivanhoe”) is presented as a bizarro-world Full Metal Jacket boot camp, with a residing Peter Pan in the form of Edward Norton’s scout master. Troops of young boys—later described by the Bill Murray character as “beige lunatics”—are mobilized to locate Sam and Suzy and their mission grants Anderson an opportunity to insert some shocking bits of casual cruelty that belie the concept’s surface cuteness.

By the time the story reaches its final, action-and-surprise filled set piece, Anderson manages to turn the central couple’s puppy-love from a pastel-tinted crush to something of a true medieval tale of courtly love. Never mind the underage lovers getting married (courtesy of Jason Schwartzman’s nickel-grabbing supply manager turned minister), their union is protected by weather itself and by nature at large!

For all its formal flourishes and unrelenting love of artisan detail, Anderson’s universe is far from a well-organized (or even friendly) place. The threat of pain—both physical and emotional—is constant, and becomes acute at the most unpredictable moments. As soon as Sam and Suzy have danced on the beach to a cloying ballad by Françoise Hardy, the girl says that she wished she was an orphan, just like Sam. What seems at first the most facetious line in the movie, fittingly receives its most pointed rejoinder: “I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

— Michal Oleszczyk

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