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The Cannes Film Festival has a reputation for choosing slight-to-major disappointments for its opening night -- think back on such flat party-starters as "Robin Hood," "Blindness," "My Blueberry Nights," "The Da Vinci Code" and "Hollywood Ending," if indeed you care to remember them at all. But the odds have improved lately: two recent Cannes curtain-raisers (and eventual Best Picture nominees), "Up" and "Midnight in Paris," salvaged the slot's reputation sufficiently that the news of a major auteur's latest opening this year's fest needn't sound alarm bells.
That auteur, as most Cannes-watchers correctly speculated, is Wes Anderson, whose "Moonrise Kingdom" was confirmed yesterday as the film that will kick things off on May 16. Given that the film is opening in French theaters on the very same day -- and in the US only nine days later -- it was an inevitable choice, though it's worth noting that this is Anderson's first film to play the Croisette. (His last live-action feature, 2007's "The Darjeeling Limited," premiered at Venice, marking his European-major debut.)
It hasn't been clarified yet whether "Moonrise Kingdom" will compete for the Palme d'Or or not -- the trend of late has been for festival openers to play out of competition, but "Blindness" is the most recent exception to that rule. Either way, it's nice to see Cannes opting again for a film that at least resembles festival fare, rather than a wholly commercial blockbuster looking to filch some Euro prestige.
Hit or miss, the film makes perfect sense as a festival opener -- a typically starry Anderson ensemble, including Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray and Frances McDormand, will make it a major red-carpet attraction for the media, while Anderson's name lends the choice more critical credibility than, say, "The Da Vinci Code." It's Anderson's second straight film to be handed festival-opening duties: though a lower-profile premiere, "Fantastic Mr. Fox" did the honors at the 2009 London Film Festival.
"Moonrise Kingdom" promises a mellow start to Cannes: set in 1960s New England, this story of a small-town search for a pair of runaway lovers looks as lushly stylized as we've come to expect from the director. I've long been in the gritted-teeth, twee-allergic camp when it comes to Anderson's work, though his foray into animation warmed me up slightly to his charms; here's hoping his latest repeats the trick.
For more views on movies, awards season and other pursuits, follow @GuyLodge on Twitter.
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