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Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom

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We took a closer look inside Wes Anderson's new film Moonrise Kingdom, out Friday. 

In 2000, Esquire asked a squad of film experts to nominate “the next Martin Scorsese” — including the great auteur himself. Scorsese anointed Wes Anderson, a 30-year-old director who had made two films: one had bombed spectacularly (Bottle Rocket); the other was a modest word-of-mouth success (Rushmore).

Scorsese concentrated on Bottle Rocket — which has since become a cult classic — complimenting it on its lack of cynicism, its tenderness and its grace. He summed up, “Both of them are very funny, but also very moving.”

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Anderson looks a little embarrassed when Esquire brings this up today; he crosses his legs, a brown Clarks Wallabee bobs on the knee of his cord trousers. “Obviously what happened was someone said to Marty, ‘We’re doing this thing on the next Scorsese, will you pick one?’” Anderson says in his slow Texan drawl, then half-commits to a Scorsese voice: “‘Errrr, there’s a lot of different guys I could go with — who are the other guys doing?’ I don’t think I was anointed. I just happened to be picked for the purposes of that article.”

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Despite his protests, the selection has stood the test of time. As he prepares to release his seventh full-length film, Moonrise Kingdom, the 43-year-old Anderson has created the strongest (and most imitated) visual identity in all of modern cinema.

His trademarks, in films such as The Royal Tenenbaums The Darjeeling Limited and Fantastic Mr Fox, include bold credits, quirky costumes and a mannered, miniaturist view of the world — who else would have given Mr Fox a hand-stitched bespoke suit?

He has launched the careers of first-time actors (Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman) and revitalised those of established ones (Bill Murray). His eclectic soundtracks have been hugely influential in their own right (see box). All of these elements are present in the charming, relentlessly odd Moonrise Kingdom, which opens this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

The story follows boy scout Sam and girlfriend Suzy, two 12-year-olds who make a secret pact to elope together into the wilderness. It is set on an island off New England in 1965; “A time that’s right before people would have started making fun of scouts,” says Anderson.

A search party is formed, consisting of Sam’s scout master (Edward Norton), the local sheriff (Bruce Willis) and Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), plus a gung-ho troop of scouts. It’s part adventure yarn, part old-fashioned love story — it’s just the protagonists happen to be pre-teens.

“I don’t know what the premise of it is, really,” admits Anderson, who wrote the screenplay with Roman Coppola. “I wanted to do a movie about a romance between two 12-year-olds that they take so seriously the adults don’t know what to do about it. The inspiration is my own experience of suddenly having this huge crush on this girl when I was that age and what didn’t happen. So this is what I envisioned and planned at that time. I only succeeded in executing it as a fiction.”

For the cast, Anderson mixes debutants and heavyweights, which is how he likes it. “There can be something nice about an experienced actor and a not-very-good actor who is an interesting person playing a scene together,” says the director. Norton in particular excels as the zealous leader of the Khaki Scouts.

“Edward has very good wilderness skills,” reports Anderson. “If you were in a plane crash in the jungle, he’d be a perfect person to be with you. In fact, he’s so resourceful that he is a pilot, so he could have easily crashed you as well.”

But the revelation is Willis as the crumpled officer. “Bruce I didn’t know before,” says Anderson, “but I had this character who was quite a sad, reserved person, but who you believe in his authority underneath it. He’s a real policeman. And Bruce Willis seems like a real policeman! It’s definitely not a stretch to say that he has a badge.”

Moonrise Kingdom is out on 25 May

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