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With Asteroid City, Wes Anderson returns (admirably) to his origins

The new movie of Wes Anderson, Asteroid City, is a play within a television drama within a film. Part of the action in the film, which premieres here at the Cannes Film Festival on Tuesday, takes place in a 1950s TV special about the making of a play by a writer reminiscent of Thornton Wilder, played with thoughtful dapper by Edward Norton. the piece, Asteroid Citycomes lively to life for us viewers, though not necessarily for the imaginary audience of the fictitious broadcast.

If that sounds confusing to you, well, that’s because it is. One could spend a good deal of time scratching his head, wondering what Anderson wants to do with all these levels. Or, as I did, one can simply indulge in the meta-textual idea, savoring the melancholic atmosphere so beautifully and gracefully evoked by America’s most eminent purveyor of eccentricities. Over the past ten years, Anderson’s style has become increasingly alienating: the director has shot grueling films, overly elaborate and pure-form art objects that don’t seem to say much. Asteroid CityInstead, it is a return to the balance of the past: His mannerisms are balanced by a convincing emotional undertone, a subtle pathos that suggests that the film it means really something.

What is this meaning, exactly? I suspect the global experience of recent years has something to do with it. In Asteroid Citya group of strangers arrives in the Southwestern desert town that gives the film its title for a convention of gifted young science students. Parents and children mix in a typically Andersonian and didactic way in the umpteenth series of dioramas. Soon they’re all stuck there, in a particular kind of quarantine (that dreaded word!).

But the characters of Asteroid City they don’t seem trapped within their confines. There is an intoxicating sense of the outdoors in the film, of pink sunset skies and soft lighting. Several scenes are set under the soft shadows of a trellis pergola, a bewitching effect; while the purplish twilight provides the ideal framing for discussions of death. However contrived and scenic the aesthetics of the film may be, Asteroid City it still seems to be part of our world.

But of course that’s not the case. In theory we would be seeing a kind of theatrical performance: the whole thing is constructed as an artifice. Yet the film is alert and alive rather than static, like too many of Anderson’s recent works. As they dig up lost pasts, recall lost people and evaluate hazy future prospects, sadness hangs over the characters in the film. Anderson suggests the busyness of existence even when things are in such a state of inertia: a heartening (if vague) evocation that things have continued to move forward (for us lucky ones, anyway) even in the nervous grip of the 2020 darker.

Jason Schwartzman plays a newly widowed and hard-hearted war photographer who is nonetheless struggling to process the recent passing of his wife. Schwartzman also plays the actor who plays the photographer, in one sensational scene that adds some welcome queerness to Anderson’s mix. Scarlett Johansson plays an actress somewhat reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe, albeit more dry and pragmatic. In their scenes together, the chemistry between her and Schwartzman is peppered: romantic interludes that could represent Anderson’s coming closer to the stifled but still vital connection at the Zoom windows.

Schwartzman And Johansson are just two of the big names that populate Anderson’s film: they are also there Tom Hanks, Hope Davis, Jeffrey Wright, Hong Chau, Tilda Swinton, Liev Schreiber, Matt Dillon, Steve Carell and others. As vast as the cast is, Anderson somehow manages to give each performer the right amount of space. Overall, the small stories that make up the film (both in Asteroid City and in the stage production that hosts it) present a fresco of everyday humanity, all quiet passion and accidental humour.

In the film, to use a hackneyed modern expression, there are good vibes. It’s as if Anderson were turning his mind back on, switch by switch, after the cataclysms of the last few years. Suddenly, his old charms seem welcome again: here, reborn, is the purpose of his particular (and sometimes annoying) style. This strange shiny and (literally) theatrical object involving an extraterrestrial is a strangely touching film. In the best case, Asteroid City it brings to mind the sensations we felt when seeing a Wes Anderson film for the first time, surprised and enthralled by his singular vision of life on Earth.

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Source: Vanity Fair

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