Review of the film “Asteroid City”: Cannes Film Festival 2023
I sometimes wonder how aware Wes Anderson is of his image in the public eye. He seems to have put a healthy distance between himself and the discourse view of his generally acclaimed work – the man lives in Paris, seems to mentally occupy several overlapping periods of the past and, as far as we can tell, n never once went online. But that same estrangement informs the way his staunchest critics criticize him, portraying him as locked in his own little world for some solipsistic fault. As they would like, he does not invest in the reality of our time or place, merely playing with models and miniatures in his hermetically sealed dioramas devoid of any human emotion. Its characters neither scream nor laugh, rather their inner workings communicate through stares of a pregnant void. He is more interested in obscure cultural relics, recounting his esoteric fascinations through rigidly baroque dialogue almost like a language in its own right. The way some people talk about him, you would think the guy was an alien.
With his eyes fixed on the night sky, he meets this perception head-on in his marvelous selection at the Cannes Film Festival. city of asteroids, for he passionately refutes the idea that people with reserved manners do not experience feelings simply because they refrain from demonstrative expression. The antique but quietly melancholic comedy settles on a convention of Junior Stargazers and Space Cadets in a pop-87 desert town on the California-Nevada border, effectively a self-contained set built entirely of fabric by Anderson and his crew in the arid areas of Spain. There, five bright young people and their parents gathered to receive kudos for their extraordinary inventions: an incinerator death ray, a functional and safe jet pack, a device that projects iconography onto the surface of the moon. Between items on the official route, the Spock-like kids sit in a circle and challenge each other to memorize lists of science pioneers like a game they’re all too smart to lose, more comfortable “outside of the Earth’s atmosphere” and in their respective schools. The adults keep their upper lips stiff, but small glimpses of their private pain still bleed through their clipped speech.
In both cases, attitudes as dry as plots of land sold by the local motel’s ATM hide deep wells of emotion, made visible by Anderson without the need for a telescope or microscope. With shrapnel still lodged in the back of his head since World War II, frontline photographer Augie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman) arrives in Asteroid City with his four children in tow, struggling to tell them their mother is died three weeks ago even as her gifted son Woodrow (a great find Jake Ryan) has his ideas. Movie heartthrob Midge Campbell (Scarlett Johansson) gravitates to tragic roles because they speak to an abiding sadness close to the core of her being. Lead researcher Dr. Hickenlooper (Tilda Swinton) has never started her own family and wonders if her lack of desire to do so means there is something wrong with her. A Byzantine framing device glues the cinematic substance of the plot inside a play inside a television program inside the film we are watching; such an elaborate structure suggests Anderson dig deeper into his own intellect than ever before, but he uses this elaborate structure to skim more moments of hidden lust, missed connections, and lost love.
Between the colony ersatz of the American West shown in a sweeping pan, the massive ensemble cast that can pull in the likes of Margot Robbie for about seven lines, and the hyper-meticulous light pastel coloring evoking the mid-century” Wish You Were Here!” ” postcards, Anderson’s work reaches a staggering new height of technical involvement. And yet, it’s all in the service of a storyline that unveils the intimate motivations behind tinkering, both in mechanical construction and in the more abstract processes of acting. Willem Dafoe makes one of the most delightful cameos as a stand-in for Sanford Meisner during the heyday of his legendary Actors Studio, an entire school of thought founded on the principle that intangibles like joy, rage and even rest must be warded off by rigorous discipline. . He and his students take up the phrase “you can’t wake up if you don’t fall asleep” as a mantra in the film’s mystifying climax, which explicitly leaves its meaning open to interpretation. This reviewer took it as a remark about how truth hides in artifice, that the agreed falseness of two-dimensional theatrical productions – or film arranged as such – nevertheless leads us to veritable epiphanies that we bring back to our real lives.
Anderson’s latest draws its tender power from grasping for understanding and the desire to be understood in an unusual personal statement from one of the show’s most misread writers. Around the margins of humor funnier “ha-ha” than his usual drollery (how he tracked down three little girls with barely believable Swiss watch comic timing), his figures of unspoken dumb struggle to understand the art, God, others, themselves. We are all grappling with inner dramas that not everyone knows about, and the most beautiful and moving moments in Anderson’s work come when broken and isolated personalities can take brief forms of refuge from one another. in others. It’s a miracle every time it happens, no less than establishing communications with extraterrestrial life. On our confusing planet filled with random causes of desperation, whether it’s a shy child finding the first peer on his wavelength or an entertainer calling across the cosmos to his sentimental withdrawn comrades, the simple act of making contact is so much more than enough.
city of asteroids will premiere in select theaters in those United States on June 16, then roll out nationwide on June 23.
Charles Bramesco (@intothecrevassse) is a film and television critic living in Brooklyn. In addition to Decider, his work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, Newsweek, Nylon, Vulture, The AV Club, Vox, and many other semi-reputable publications. Her favorite movie is Boogie Nights.