I have seen Moonrise Kingdom three times already. It's not entirely because it is the best film of the year so far (a place it's likely to hold) - it's also because there haven't been a lot of options I'm dying to see. I mentioned that before - though lately, it's been an accumulation of things: indifference to other films that are out, some odd scheduling decisions (10:45 am starting times - what's that about?) - and the simple fact that Moonrise Kingdom is there to be seen, and its so much better than anything else... why fight it? Though I suppose even that is more of a rationalization than it should be - the biggest reason for seeing it three times is that it is a rapturous film, and I can't get enough of it.
Simple enough story: an orphan 12 year old boy runs away from the khaki scouts with a lonely 12 year old girl whose parents hate each other and who is far too smart for anyone around her. They cross the island they live on through the woods, while everyone else scrambles in their wake, the searchers spending as much time fighting among themselves as looking for the kids. But they are found, though not before they stab one of the other scouts and fall in love - they are hauled off, and Social Services called in to take him away - maybe to juvenile refuge; maybe for shock treatment; maybe to have a piece of his brain cut out. So - as usual in Wes Anderson films, the rest of the gang gets together and saves the heroes. They escape again, but there's a storm a-coming... All this is set in 1965, on an island off the coast of Maine (it seems) - there is just a hint of a times they are a changing' vibe going on, things like Sam's brooch (not meant for a male to wear, but he doesn't give a damn), though it's not the point. Though French films might be the point.
It's quietly movie mad, in Anderson's way - with Godard and Ozu prominent as usual (though hardly the only influences). Pierrot le Fou, with its lovers on the lam, and Floating Weeds, with its lighthouses and harbors and torrential downpours and lost and found fathers and sons seem particularly relevant here. But I suppose it's even more steeped in the types of books Suzzy reads - about near teens, usually girls, having adventures, on this or foreign worlds, usually with magic powers, always running away, forced to save themselves, on their own. The film itself plays like a daydream about a book like that, set in a real place, and acted out in this place. That's an underrated part of Anderson's style, the locations - aesthetically precise as they are (and they are usually as precise as the sets), they are always very real looking. This film looks more or less absolutely right - the woods, the jagged ledges, the little lakes and tidal pools, the houses docks and fields. Some of it, to be sure, seems a bit too inland - some of those streams seem like they'd be hard to muster in September in New England on an island - but that's a quibble. And a quibble that misses the point by a far piece - it's a daydream - the nature of which is to take the real enough world the kids are in and turn it into a wonderland, a setting for adventure.
That is, in the end, Wes Anderson's world - his films are about art, about transforming the world that is into an image of a world, that focuses and clarifies the world as it is. His characters are all artists, usually literally, sometimes figuratively (which usually makes them con artists, like Royal), but always there trying to make sense of the world by making art out of it. (And Sam is a painter; Suzzy is more ambiguous, less explicitly making art, but she is in a play when Sam meets her, and she is immersed in those books, and seems to be immersed in their imaginative world as well; she seems to be Margot Tenenbaum in the making.) They are all making themselves up as they go along, trying to make up the world as they go along - though the world never quite seems to stop being what it is. They shape and adapt and get along, however well they can.
Which does pull this back to the film references (the specific ones I mentioned.) That's Pierrot le Fou; it's also Floating Weeds. People who try to make the world into their own fiction, do it, but find the world just as determined to write itself - so they have to figure out what to do with it. Anderson is usually more optimistic than his models - this is a doomed romance that is saved; this is a story of a fatherless boy finding a father of sorts, the opposite of the father who has to deny his son in the Ozu film.
And so on. All of this, meanwhile, is put together with skill that is worthy of comparison to Godard or Ozu - Anderson is as good a filmmaker as anyone in the world now. Everything he does uses the art of film completely - his photography, the editing, the integration of music into the film, the performances, and how they are all put together. He gets plenty of attention for his set designs, compositions and so on, deservedly, but these things are always more than that - they flow; they create a world, they provide the material for the stories to take place. And they create deep pleasure (for me anyway) in the basic material of the film - cuts, camera movements, a camera angle, can make you laugh, or take your breath away. There is pure pleasure in something as simple as the perfect rhythm of the cuts in the voiceover reading of a note... And, as is characteristic of his films, he has created a whole suite of characters, the kids at the center, the adults surrounding them, and assembled a cast to do them justice. He gets a distinctive style from his cast - it's not a naturalistic style, but it still manages to make actors seem to be born into their roles. All right. A great film.