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FILM REVIEWS

MOONRISE KINGDOM

The film opened this year's Cannes film festival. It's a funny childlike film, a product of pure artistic imagination. Wes Anderson probably relives and recreates a childhood, a bit elitist though, like a slightly weird and stylized yet comical dream and drama that is relatable, enjoyable, and beautiful. If the film was not in serious contention for the Palme d'Or at Cannes, the reason was its greater emphasis on style than substance. MOONRISE KINGDOM can be a good learning experience for Indian filmmakers in creating artistically integrated stylized cinema.

It's a love story between two brilliant hardheaded kids Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward). Its set on an imaginary Island called New Penzance, a kind of an innocent 'make believe' world. Sam is a Boy Scout and is part of a scout camp called Camp Ivanhoe on the island under the command of Scout Master Randy Ward (Edward Norton). He is a rebel with a definite cause and is in love with Suzy, the stubborn daughter of Walt and Laura Bishop (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), a weird lawyer couple who have set up their home on the island with their kids. Sam and Suzy run away to find their own world. Randy orders his boys to form a search party and look out for their mate. The Bishops and their remaining 3 male kids are also looking for Suzy. Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), the island's lone law enforcement officer, joins the search party. A Social Services Officer (Tilda Swinton) is after Sharp and Randy for having lost her ward. She is in charge of Sam's welfare since he is an orphan and thus the responsibility of the state.

The search party of scouts has a slightly bloody encounter with the run-aways, and in the process the schnauzer scout dog gets killed, and the mean-hearted leader of the search party is also stabbed in the stomach with a pair of scissors by Suzy. Sam and Suzy finally discover the place they were looking for, a kind of a lost kingdom, a tiny blue lagoon. They set up their home, Suzy reads books to Sam, both take bath in the lagoon, and Sam makes earrings for Suzy with fishing hooks and after a bloody piercing job she wears them. Both also dance together, and learn French kissing with some awkward efforts. Suzy also allows Sam to fondle her undeveloped breasts. What is important for them is that they have found the world of their own, away from a world they were not happy in. However, they are discovered very soon since the narrator of the story (Bob Balaban), a cartographer, guesses where they may have gone since he had taught Sam about an ancient trail that led to the Moonrise Kingdom. Suzy is back with her parents; Sam has to live with Sharp until the arrival of the Social Services Officer and in all probability will be put in an orphanage since his foster parents have refused to take him back into their care. Sam may also have to undergo a psychiatric evaluation involving electric shock therapy. Goodhearted Sharp does not like the idea. The bachelor looks at the orphan boy in a fatherly sort of way.

Suzy and Sam's love story is not over yet. The boy scouts in Randy's camp decide to help the lovers. They get Suzy out of her house, and extract Sam, and head for the main scout camp on the Island called Fort Lebanon run by Commander Pierce (Harvey Keitel). The camp has a chapel and Sam and Suzy are properly married by a slightly older scout who acts as the chapel priest and thus thinks he has the divine authority to conduct marriages as well. However, Sam and Suzy, about to be captured yet again, decide to die together, since the world will not let them live together. Of course they don't die and things get sorted out to everyone's satisfaction. After all it's a children's play and a comedy.

The most remarkable thing about the film is the sterling performances by the kids. There are a whole lot of them, and it's amazing that the helmer manages to get them in sync with his stylized vision. Each one of them lives his/her role, which is anything but a simple task. Even if you start searching for a false note with a hawk's eye, you won't find one. The senior thespians may have missed a few beats in this ensemble performance, but the kids don't. It's a daunting task to essay such make-believe characters but the kid-cast, led by Jared Gilman (Sam) and Kara Hayward (Suzy) in the lead roles, lives up to the challenge. They immensely help the film's director realize his artistic goals.

Let me compare the performances of these kids with that of Ranbir Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra in BARFI!, which is a bad example of stylized cinema in my view. If the kids in MOONRISE KINGDOM get a perfect score of ten on a zero-to-ten scale, Priyanka and Ranbir may score one with great difficulty. Let me reassert with absolute certainty that if we continue to praise and patronize bad writing, direction, and acting the way we are doing it today, and keep lowering the benchmarks of excellence, we will be producing a generation of worthless mimetic actors, copycat writers, and third-rate directors.

It's a painstakingly made film and a fine example of the importance of mise-en-scene in the filmmaking process. Very few filmmakers in India pay attention to it and even if they do, they generally resort to referencing and copying Hollywood elements. Someone has aptly used the term colourfully rich tapestry for the film. Driven by the singularity of the director's vision, each shot and composition is carefully arranged and shot in colors that give us a good sense of the period the film is set in.

It's inspired writing from the perspective of a boy scout. It's funny if you let yourself flow with it, giving rest to your faculty of reason. You cannot expect kids to be reasonable. They can be quite weird at times and capable of inventing their own solid reasons not to do or do things. They may even take their games a bit too seriously. Wes Anderson has succeeded in telling a story from their point of view with his unique touches and intuitive flourishes in a style that compliments the film's subject. It's the POV of a boy and thus gets a bit violent at times. Even Suzy comes across as a kind of tomboy.

Rajesh Kumar Singh